I assume that this happens to the best of us. We are human after all and life has a tendency to sweep us up and carry us along without too much thought to really practiced attention. As we go about our busy days with work, personal commitments, raising families, taking care of families, keeping up with friends, tending to those who need us, we often lose the opportunity to stop and really listen once the hectic pace takes over.
This is where personal practice/sadhana and meditation come in to play.
As you practice and meditate, you go deeper within and start to connect with the "true Self" or that Self which is directly connected to Divinity and the world around you. When you meditate, whether it is on an object, the breath, a situation, or whatever you choose, you start to attune your ability to listen and create space for awareness. It is in this space that you become receptive to the world around you. You may even find that over time you start to cut out all the excess noise in your life (i.e. TV, music, chatter, etc.) and yearn for a more relaxing quiet space.
The ability to listen is so important because more often than not the words that people speak are not really what they mean to say; it is quite the conundrum, isn't it? There are so many layers to our daily interactions and if we take a moment to stop and listen to what our neighbor is saying, then hopefully we will see the situation more clearly and help them to alleviate their confusion or suffering.
I find that I am continually working on my listening skills and like all things, it takes practice. There are some days when I'm spot on and others when I've let my busy schedule get the best of me and perhaps have not paid as good as attention to a situation as I should. I work daily to really listen to what people are saying, and not-saying for that matter, because I know all too well what it feels like to be "un-listened" to when you really need it.
I have a small group of friends that are really good listeners and I turn to them to when I am in need of someone to talk to or bounce ideas off of. They are invaluable to me because each and every one of them approaches whatever situation I'm going through with an open heart and mind, understanding, non-judgment, clarity through words, and lots of love and patience. They are undoubtedly the group of friends that tells me honestly when I'm being irrational or when I'm on the right track. Most importantly, the make time for me when I need them most. I think everyone should have friends like this.
Qualities of a good listener:
- Keep good eye contact.
- Be 100% present. Turn off the phone, TV, radio and avoid any other distractions.
- Listen to what the person is saying and repeat it in back to them so you are both clear on what is really being discussed.
- Have patience and allow space for honest reflection without trying to impress your own experiences upon someone. Sometimes the experience is helpful in trying to clarify what you want to say. But mostly, it's not necessary. You are there for them, not you.
- Speak the truth, especially in really difficult situations. This takes a lot of strength, but clearly if someone is in need, then you owe it to them to be honest.
- Don't assume you know what the other person needs or is thinking without hearing them out first.
- Approach the subject with love and an open mind and be willing to say "I don't know what to tell you, but I think xxx might be a good resource for you."
What are some other qualities of a good listener? How does your practice help you cultivate the skills necessary to listen to yourself and others?