A Way of Listening

Most of us move pretty fast. Even in retirement from “the rat race”, I see folks eating in a hurry, multi-tasking and checking their calendars multiple times every day to keep up with their activities. I don’t think that this is all bad; it just is. But there are some casualties of our pace of life, and I believe listening is one of them.

I don’t mean hearing, but really listening. I was raised in a culture where looking someone directly in the eye when you spoke to them was considered a little aggressive. It was reserved for lovers, or for conversations where you had something to prove to the other person. So I am aware that I have to remember, in casual conversation, to look at the person to whom I am listening.

At the very minimum, it means dragging my eyes away from the phone or television screen.

So often, we get in the habit of listening only to plan our response; hey that happened to me once! I heard something like that on the radio! But what did you do about that?

But real listening comes when we aren’t already planning our reply. When we listen deeply to someone’s words, we notice their body language, we hear their hesitation, we notice where they are in the room. In short, we attend to them, not to ourselves.

Parenting offers lots of opportunities for listening. At the certain stage, most kids will regale you with the story of their day in endless detail. It’s tempting to “uh-hum” your way through the story of how Johnny took the pencil. But listening pays huge benefits. You may learn more than you want to about pencils, but you will also understand where your little one is struggling,and how the teacher is reacting. Full attention to kids when they are telling you a story in second grade is a down payment on hearing anything at all about their lives only five years later!

Time with ailing elders is also full of opportunities to listen. Sometimes, when we hear a story more than once, we hear the really important point more clearly. In conversations about diet, or sleep or health, we can also hear worries about relevance, about relationships, about death. In listening deeply, we honor their experience and hear what really matters to them at this stage in their lives.

We also need to pay attention to how we are listening to the adults with whom we share our daily lives. Jokes about not listening to your spouse are a comedy routine staple. We may think we are more enlightened than those stereotypes. But are we really? Have we dropped everything we were doing to listen to the person we love? Have we looked them full in the face and noticed everything while we gave them our full attention? “How was your day, honey?” can be a revelatory question.

Today, make a practice of listening, really listening, to the people you love. Squooch down and look the toddler full in the face. Try paying full attention to your co-worker. Look completely at the barista or checkout cashier as you wish them a pleasant day. And in those interactions, may you find the Still Speaking God.

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