June 5: Listening – The Art of Listening

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” — David Augsburger, Fuller Theological School

In 1993 I participated in a weekend healing workshop in which each person in the workshop had the opportunity for time in the center of the group to work on the issue that brought them to that space. This involved deep body work … releasing the emotions safely contained tightly within that longed to be released so healing could begin. The rest of the group created a strong container to hold what needed to be said, heard, felt, and experienced.

After our time “on the mat” we could ask the group to hold us in any number of ways. One of those ways was to be cradled while a song of our choosing was played. I didn’t know what it meant to be cradled, but it sounded good, so that’s what I chose.

Cradling involved me laying on my back and having eight people in the group clasp arms under my body with one at my head and one at my feet. Then they lifted me and rocked me gently as a song by Robert Gass played. “Listen, listen, listen to my heart song. Listen, listen, listen to my heart song. I will never forget you, I will never forsake you; I will never forget you, I will never forsake you.”

I felt so HEARD in that space, and so LOVED. This was an experience of listening that went far beyond conversation. I have strived over the years since to create listening spaces that could come close to that experience.

There is so much “sound clutter” in our environment and in our minds it can be very hard to listen — to anything! David Isay, the founder of the StoryCorps project, says that listening is an act of love. It takes energy, focus, and commitment to offer deep listening for another person. And what better way to say, “I love you” than to create that space.

Here’s a suggestion I heard recently. If there is someone you would like to be closer to, but you have some big differences in world views or perspectives, try just listening. Clear your mind of judgment, assumptions, biases, and your own need to “be right” and ask great questions that will invite the person to share their deeper stories. You can find lots of great questions on the StoryCorps website (Great Questions for Anyone). What is your earliest memory? What was the happiest moment in your life? The saddest?

It can also be interesting to ask people about those difficult topics that are so hard to discuss. “What was your first experience of the concept of race?” “How did you come to find out that some people have different sexual orientations from your own?” “How did you come to identify as a (Democrat/Republican/Libertarian/Socialist)?” Then just let the person talk. And don’t wait for your turn. Don’t expect your turn. Just listen. Hear them into being, hear them into feeling loved.

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