Last week, I came across the following meditation: On Listening, by Ralph Roughton.
“When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving advice you have not done what I asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have failed me, strange as that may seem.
Listen! All I ask is that you listen. not talk or do—just hear me.
When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and inadequacy. And I can do for myself; I’m not helpless. Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless.
But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I quit trying to convince you and get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling. And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice. Irrational feelings make sense when we understand what’s behind them.
Perhaps that’s why prayer works sometimes for some people…because god is mute, and he or she doesn’t give advice or try to fix things…. So, please listen and just hear me. And, if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn, and I’ll listen to you.”
Listening is the total process of understanding the meaning conveyed by another. Therefore, to really hear what someone is saying we need to commit more than our sense of hearing to the process. We need to listen with our eyes watching for facial expressions, body language, and gestures. We also need to listen with our heart so we can hear what’s not being said.
We stop listening, or just don’t listen for many reasons. When I was a child and I was being lectured, I’d hear what was being said with my ears, but the message actually went in one ear and out the other. In fact, my caretakers used to say those exact words to me. “You never listen to what I say. It all goes in one ear and out the other.” The reason I didn’t listen was because of the trigger words that were being used. Most of us, whether we’re children or adults, respond negatively and stop listening when we hear the phrases: you should, you always, or you never. These are words that make most of us go deaf, because we immediately have our anger or shame issues triggered by the words or phrases. I remember when my husband and I first got serious with each other, we made an agreement that we would communicate fairly, which means we would not use trigger words. It’s unfair to make generalized or blanket statements, and what’s true for most of we don’t always, and very seldom never ,and really, how do you know what I should do? If we really want to engage others in full and open communication, it is best to avoid trigger words and phrases.
Another reason we don’t listen is because often, we don’t want to believe or we’re not ready to believe what someone is telling us. I’ve heard Oprah say so many times, “People tell us who they are, but we refuse to hear them”. At the beginning of relationships we want to believe the other person is Miss or Mr. Perfect so when they say, “I’m lazy”, “I’m a procrastinator”, “I’m a shopaholic”, or “I’m cheap”, we push it aside and deny it. A few years down the road, we realize, “hey, she’s a procrastinator” and feel shocked by the revelation. If only we’d listened.
I am aware of how often I fail to listen. I’ll ask a question and not listen to the answer and then ask the same question a little later. I get caught red-handed and I hear the irritation in the other person’s voice when they say, “I just told you that.” Being caught with my pants down, all I can do is admit that I was not listening and apologize. I’ll usually listen if we’re having a meaningful conversation, but it it’s not really important to me, I have a tendency to zone out. That’s unfortunate ,and I want to excuse it by saying it’s just part of the human condition, but I also want to be willing to hear what others have to say.
Does this mean I listen all the time? I wish I could say I do, but that’s not true. I still tend to judge whether what’s being said is worth listening to. Sometimes I really don’t want to hear what someone wants to say. Either I’m tired, or bored, or busy, or really don’t care at the moment how you make oyster loaf and how delicious it is. I was telling a friend one time about this person I know who talks all the time and says nothing. I said, “She talks about food and fashion and stuff that really doesn’t matter.” My friend responded, “It may not matter to you, but it probably matters to her.” Wow. I felt like someone had thrown cold water in my face. I heard what my friend said and I got the message. Whether I think something is important or not, really is not the issue when it comes to listening. What is the issue, when you’re talking to me, is what’s important to you. Listening to others is a powerful gift that says, “You matter.”
Finally, taking time to listen to our own heart is a gift we can give to ourselves. Be quiet and sit in silence. This is how we hear that still small voice within. By listening to our heart we can build what Doc Childre and Bruce Cryer call, “heart security.” When we’re secure in our heart, because we’ve taken the time to be quiet and listen, we are clearer about life and where we’re going. I trust that you know how important you are, and that you’ll take time out for you. Sit back, relax, let the silence in, and just listen. Shhhhhh….
My prompts for last week were: ailing, spool, sail, animal, and paper