“Listening has the quality of the wizard’s alchemy. It has the power to melt armor and to produce beauty in the midst of hatred.” ~Brian Muldoon
Deep listening is a sacred act–a wordless loving embrace. It’s one of the greatest powers of Restorative Love because when we listen deeply, we are silently telling our partner that they matter–that what they feel and experience carries value—even if we view things differently. It gives room for someone to be where they are, exactly as they are and satisfies one of the deepest needs every human craves–to be heard and validated. Deep listening is a practice of stillness and full presence. There is no agenda for a certain outcome, no attempts at fixing the problem. Listening is simply receiving what someone is saying with the intention to learn. When our partner feels heard, there is almost always a relaxation that occurs—even in the midst of struggle—which opens the door for greater insight, clarity and healing. When we drop into stillness and listen deeply with the intention of really trying to understand what makes someone tick, we cross a barrier of separation and find our humanity in the heart of another. This is the true meaning of compassion.
Listening deeply sounds simple but is very hard for most people to do. It requires being fully present, silent and still. Depending on the situation, this can be most challenging. For example, when someone is going through something difficult, many of us want to help and have a tendency to try to fix things. We give advice, offer suggestions, or discuss our own similar experiences. In the case of being in conflict with someone, we might feel hurt or angry and unable to really take in what our partner is actually expressing. We might disagree with what our partner is saying and feel compelled to interrupt them to insert our point of view. We might be thinking about what we want to say while someone is talking and thus not be fully present. We might feel uncomfortable with the information someone is sharing (or the way they are sharing it) and attempt to assuage our discomfort through avoidance or by tuning out.
Deep listening is a selfless act. We literally lose our self in the moment– becoming totally available to the other person's point of view-absorbing what they have to say like a sponge. When we meet someone-anyone-including ourselves with this kind of alert attention, a door to deeper intimacy is opened. Walls that separate begin to melt away and stuck energy begins to move. Understanding is often revealed and common ground can be established.
Listening with the ears of love is not only transformative when speaking with others. Our soul is always speaking to us. In every moment, in every difficult situation, we are being informed by our inner knowing. Unpleasant emotions are a signal from our soul telling us that something is out of balance—something needs attention. They often carry our soul’s longing for Love, for a sense of purpose or meaning and the freedom to be who we really are. In the same way that deep listening in marital conflict can lead to growth and deepened intimacy in relationship with our significant other, listening deeply to ourselves can reveal what is out of balance and provides the roadmap to restore it.
Mahatma Ghandi said, “Everyone who wills can hear the inner voice. It is within everyone.” But to be able to hear the wisdom of the heart, we must first discover it—or more precisely, uncover it. The heart’s voice speaks in whispers whereas the voice of our unpleasant thoughts and reactive emotions are screaming at us. The heart speaks the language of acceptance and invitation. Negative thoughts and reactive emotions speak the language of harsh judgement and attack. But when we deeply listen to ourselves with the intent of getting to the truth of what is bothering us underneath the harshness, we learn to hear the heart’s voice and receive the answers which are always there inside of us.
Whether we are learning to listen deeply to each other or to ourselves, psychotherapy can be very useful. Sometimes we need a neutral, compassionate guide to help us listen deeply to each other or to discover the message that our soul is giving us. We often get trapped in our judgements about our emotional life. We think we should be somewhere other than we are. We might think there is something wrong with us for feeling depressed or anxious or in pain. Perhaps we think it is a sign of weakness. But if we look at it as a communication from our soul, we can begin to address our unpleasant emotions as an opportunity to achieve a greater sense of well-being rather than as a failure or shortcoming. This change in perspective empowers us to restore our wholeness and peace of mind which is our birthright. As the Dalai Lama said, “The purpose of life is to be happy.”