Listening With Your Heart:
Less Thinking And More Feeling
Most of us were born and raised in cultures that value the head over the heart and, as a result, we place our own hearts below our heads in a sort of inner hierarchy of which we may not be conscious. What this means is that we tend to listen and respond from the neck up, often leaving the rest of our bodies with little or no say in most matters. This is a physical habit, which sometimes feels as ingrained as the way we breathe or walk. However, with effort and awareness, we can shift the energy into our hearts, listening and responding from this much deeper, more resonant place.
The brain has a masterful way of imposing structure and order on the world, creating divisions and categories, devising plans and strategies. In many ways, we have our brains to thank for our survival on this planet. However, as is so clear at this time, we also need the wisdom of our hearts if we wish to continue surviving in a viable way. When we listen from our heart, the logical grid of the brain tends to soften and melt, which enables us to perceive the interconnectedness beneath the divisions and categories we use to organize the world. We begin to understand that just as the heart underlies the brain, this interconnectedness underlies everything.
Many agree that this is the most important work we can do at this time in history, and there are many practices at our disposal. For a simple start, try sitting with a friend and asking him to tell you about his life at this moment. For 10 minutes or more, try to listen without responding verbally, offering suggestions, or brainstorming solutions. Instead, breathe into your heart and your belly, listening and feeling instead of thinking. When you do this, you may find that it’s much more difficult to offer advice and much easier to identify with the feelings your friend is sharing. You may also find that your friend opens up more, goes deeper, and feels he has really been heard. If you also feel great warmth and compassion, almost as if you are seeing your friend for the first time, then you will know that you have begun to tap the power of listening with your heart.
~ Madyson Taylor, Daily Om
“Listening is not a passive activity. It’s not about being quiet or even hearing the words. It is an action, and it takes energy to listen.” ~ Kay Lindahl
Listening. It seems deceptively easy, but think about it, how often do you really listen? For most of us, it is not very often. It is not as though we consciously set out with the goal of not paying attention to what others say, it is simply habitual. Think about it. You are involved in a conversation with someone. The other party is talking. In most cases, from outward appearances, you are listening, but inwardly, your attention is on other matters. For example, you are compiling your grocery list, thinking about getting your tax documents over to the accountant, or wondering what time your spouse said that your daughter’s soccer game was taking place. All the while, you are nodding your head as if agreeing to something said, or every now and again you add an um-hum or uh-hah. At least, it appeared that this person was listening.
On the other hand, how often have you seen conversations between two people? One person is talking, while the other is visibly uninterested in the conversation. He (Please note that I only use “he” for simplicity’s sake.) sits, slouched in his chair, arms across his chest, and avoiding eye contact with the person speaking. Then, there are those who are looking everywhere but at the person who is talking. Another tactic is to seem to listen, but to continually interrupt the other person, form a response to something said minutes ago, or raise his voice speaking over the other person. None of these people are practicing the art of listening.
As the quote notes, listening is an active activity. How we listen may harken back to childhood. Undoubtedly, raising a family requires enormous amounts of time and effort. I know that first hand. Nonetheless, as a child, I can’t remember a time when my harried mother had the time to sit down, look me in the eye, and fully listen to my questions or what I had to say. Our conversations typically took place while she was preparing dinner, washing clothes or one of the other myriad tasks that it takes to care for a household. I don’t fault my mother, (In all honesty, I can’t say that I behaved differently with my children.) because as a single mom, she did the best that she could. I only bring this up to illustrate that the way we listen can result from learned behavior.
True listening is a gift that we give to another person. It may be difficult, but we owe it to them and to ourselves to listen with our whole heart. In the midst of our busy lives, it takes time and effort to sit with someone and really hear what they are saying. The exchange is a practice in mindfulness and it serves as a benefit to both you and the other person. By deeply listening, you can offer an informed response based on the totality of their words. Given that they act similarly, both of you part with a sense of communion brought by the powerful spirit of mutual listening.