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Are You Really Listening? The Power of Listening

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I love this picture, don’t you?! I mean look at how adorable and innocent this baby is. At the heart of each of us is one of them. I know it might be difficult to see this or realize this in many people we come into contact with on a daily basis but if you can get a glimpse of the idea that we are all doing the best we can given the mental capability we are working from at any given moment, we will begin to see each person’s innocence.

In fact, we can really learn so much by observing, playing and hanging out with children. If you pay attention you will notice how almost all children are so open, honest, anxious to explore, unhindered by prejudices and belief systems, full of life, creative energy and most importantly … they are present. The younger they are the clearer their vision is and the world is just a big place full of interesting and fascinating things and people to explore, touch, taste and feel.

I have good news! We can all get back to that place of innocence, unencumbered by our distracted thinking, conditioning, beliefs, opinions and socialization by being present. I don’t mean physically present either, I mean being right here, right now … in this moment, undistracted by our thoughts, thoughts of problems, issues, past, future, judgments, opinions … just being in the right here, right now. I would venture to say that most of us don’t know what that is like. It would seem that we prefer the conversations in our head rather than the ones we are having with other people. Sound familiar? We’ve lost that childlike innocence of being able to be captivated by a sandbox and a playmate.

More often then not, most people are uncomfortable with silence. They are so used to having their internal chatter constantly tuned in on their minds radio dial with their problems, concerns and thoughts that the idea of emptying their mind or having nothing on their mind just scares them.

The problem is that a speeded up mind creates insecurity and prevents our ability to be present, in this moment. When you are distracted by your own chatter and personal thinking you can’t focus, let alone hear or see what is happening right in front of you. It is like your body is physically present but your mind is absent. People pick up on this quickly. Even though you might be able to mimic what you are hearing you aren’t able to pick up on the essence of the conversation or the heart of the conversation leaving our partners, children, family, friends, and colleagues to feel neglected and unheard. Often the volume in our head is so loud that we don’t realize everyone else can hear it too! Isn’t’ that the truth. We think our chatter is just confined to our heads, but really that distractedness manifests itself in so many potentially negative ways without us even recognizing it, especially when we are trying to listen.

I found that to be true for me, but the more I learn how to slow down my thoughts, to dismiss and tune out the chatter…the more I really appreciate and enjoy the calm in my head. The chatter now hurts … it feels like a train is running through my head, it is chaotic and confusing. What I find even more interesting is that learning to be present, in the moment, has given me the ability to really focus. I have found a creative energy that before I would briefly experience through a caffeinated high only to crash a few short hours later feeling more drained, exhausted and confused! I have altogether given up multi-tasking. I throw myself into one task at a time and am able to do a much better job then ever before in half the time.

My last two interviews with my dear friend Robert Kausen have been about listening. There are so many benefits both personally and professionally to listening. As I slow down I am learning how to listen … listen to others, to myself and trust myself. I never really knew what listening was. Most conversations I observed were defensive communication at best with lots of debating, proving ideas and theories, trying to get their last word in or argumentative in nature, opinionated, analytical, hostile and altogether not very nourishing creating distance rather than closeness. Since learning what listening is and what it isn’t, I think back over my life and wonder how many conversations I actually heard what the other person was saying without filtering it through my belief system, judgments, opinions and conditioning or thinking of my “awesome” response. I laugh now. As Sydney Banks says, “It is the ego’s need to create the illusion of self-importance that is the biggest stumbling block to a quite mind.”

I love the scene in the movie The Peaceful Warrior where Dan struggles with his ego. It is such a powerful scene. His need, much like ours, to feel important and worthwhile was so intense and the illusion that he created about who he was completely wiped away by his accident. Once he lost that identity he felt worthless and wanted to kill himself. As he is on the ledge contemplating jumping, he struggles with his ego and finally lets it go and embraces the unknown. That scene was so very real to me as I too had to grapple with my ego and my own self-importance in order to free myself to live a happy, more satisfied life. It all came back to my ego.

My need to talk, share, fix, influence and change people was my attempt to fulfill a need to feel worthwhile. As I was reading Joe Bailey’s book The Serenity Principle with a client of mine, I came across this and it truly moved me:

As we come to understand the principles of psychological functioning, our relationships take on a whole new form. When we feel serene and secure we are naturally more open, respectful, and loving toward others. There is no need for defensiveness or blame because we are at peace with ourselves and the ego is not trying to protect its image. We are able to appreciate others’ positive characteristics and feel compassionate when they are insecure and behaving negatively. We are patient with others’ changes and let go of our need to control them so we can feel good. Although we want to help others realize their own serenity, we know we can’t do it for them. Above all, we see beyond others’ insecure habits to their inner goodness. As we recognize it, they are encouraged to recognize it too!

Since I’ve been raising my level of psychological functioning, I have recognized this in myself and as a result I don’t have much to say anymore. I find more joy in the idea of just listening to others and allowing myself to be influenced by their thoughts and ideas. Like I experienced when visiting my friend George … I am learning how to just enjoy people as they are, for who they are and what they bring to the table. His ability to see me different made me see me through his eyes instead of mine. It changed my life.

I find that the quieter my mind gets, the calmer I become, the more peace and presence I experience in my life and I’ve come to the realization that it isn’t so much the content of my conversations that matters, rather it is being present with people without prejudice, judgment, my conditioning, or preconceived ideas. Being able to listen and hear the essence of what people are trying to say is what really matters. As a result, I am experiencing closer relationships.

What about you? How many times do you find yourself caught up in thinking over your response while the other person is still talking? How many times do you think of ways of changing them, influencing them or fixing them throughout the course of a conversation?

As George Pransky has shared on his CD Synergy vs. Advocacy, we innocently practice defensive listening because we are so afraid of being taken in by other people’s thoughts and ideas. Often we will defend, with great intensity, beliefs, ideas and thoughts we don’t necessarily believe ourselves but because it is what we’ve been taught. However, when you operate from a place of equanimity or security, you will drop this fear and trust yourself to know what is right from wrong or what works for you. You will not be afraid of others thoughts, ideas and beliefs. In fact, you allow yourself to consider what they are saying and potentially be influenced by them. There is no need to debate or argue ideas, they are just ideas.


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