Listening to Sacred Stillness: Are We Listening Well?

Listening to Sacred Stillness: Are We Listening Well? October 16, 2018

Are We Listening Well?

Some people feel spiritual life is like a long series of meetings which never end. We sit and endure presentations even though we do not understand what difference they make for us. There never seems to be time for questions. As soon as we can we grab some coffee and get on with the rest of our day.

Many of us experience spiritual life as something we have to do, not something we get to do.

Our spiritual experience may feel like an endless series of conferences. There are people who speak to all of us and then we break into smaller sessions. Even some of the people who stand in front doing the talking become bored and dissatisfied.

Spiritual life appears to be a part of our lives where there is more talking than listening. Some people go to school for years to be qualified to talk about spiritual life. In many places someone teaches or preaches each week, interpreting spiritual life into practical steps.

Rather than continuing to produce more teaching and training, more words, it might help to ask about listening.

Are we listening well? What gets in the way of our listening? Who or what keeps us from listening well? How can we become more effective listeners?

Do we think listening is sitting there struggling not to fall asleep?

What Keeps Us From Listening Well?

We live in a world where listening well has become less important.

Many of us have become accustomed to being treated like we are incapable of listening well. When we make an appointment we are sent reminder after reminder to make sure we understand. We receive phone messages and texts and emails. Some reminders are actually written down on paper. If we were listening well would we need all these reminders?

Why do people assume we are not listening well? One reason is it has become more difficult and less likely to listen well.

Listening well was one thing when people had contact with a small number of other people each day. When people spent their lives with people they knew and saw in person listening well was less challenging. There were fewer distractions. We paid more focused attention to what was happening right in front of us.

Now we live in a world where our context has been transformed. Many of us talk with people on the other side of the country, halfway around the planet, each day. We pay attention to weather events or political developments in places we have never visited.

Electronic media give us the ability to feel the experiences of being in distant places. It is more challenging to listen well when our minds are filled with so many possibilities.

Sitting and listening as part of a congregation can feel like something we must endure. We experience it as time when nothing is happening. The images and experiences in our memories draw us away from paying attention.

It can be a challenge for us to listen to another person. It is as if we have forgotten how to listen, how to reflect, how to pay attention to each other.

How Can We Practice Listening Well?

We live at a time when it is unusual for people to listen to each other. Our loss of the memory of listening contributes to the lack of listening and respect in our society. We are out of practice.

It can be easy for people who want to listen well to feel discouraged and overwhelmed. Can we regain our ability to listen well?

Listening well is a skill we learn and develop by practicing. There are physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual aspects of listening well.

When we listen well it can be hard work. We need to be well rested and prepared for the physical experience of listening.

While listening is more than hearing, it is more challenging to listen well when we cannot hear well.

We can gain information and learn lessons about listening which help us become stronger listeners. Learning about listening may spark insights or questions which will contribute to our practice.

Listening well demands emotional depth and maturity. We may need to do some emotional work before we can listen well.

We begin to practice listening well by listening to ourselves. Spiritual life draws us to a deeper, more intimate understanding of ourselves. As our relationship to our true selves grows we begin to share ourselves with people around us.

As my own spiritual journey draws me further into communion with myself I am more able to listen well to others.

Listening well is a comprehensive practice which is based in each of the areas of our lives.

We practice listening well each day and our practice guides us into deeper listening.

How Do We Experience Listening Well?

We practice listening well and our practice grows within us. As we practice we begin to experience listening in new ways.

There is no concise, specific checklist which describes how we practice or experience listening well. It may not be satisfying to hear, but listening well is something we need to experience.

Somewhat like the experience of waking up, we slowly begin to realize we are no longer asleep.

While listening well may seem dramatic as we look back on our experiences, it is a natural process.

We may begin our practice by listening well to ourselves, to our own voices. As we practice we start to notice we have begun listening to other people in new ways. Some of us will step toward listening to the world around us first, or listening to sacred stillness.

Each of us develops a practice of listening in our own personal ways. Listening well sprouts and grows within us. Our pattern may be our own, distinct way of growing. We each find ourselves growing in surprising new ways.

How will we grow in listening well today?

What will our practice of listening well draw us toward this week?

[Image by markhillary]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

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