What Can We Hear When We Are Listening?
We can hear remarkable things when we are listening. Many of us seldom spend the time or effort it takes to listen well. When we do, we hear things which take us by surprise.
It is not necessarily while we are listening that we hear everything. Part of the practice of listening to sacred stillness is helping us to hear and reflect on what we hear.
One of the disciplines I practice is a form of contemplative prayer. I spend time each day listening and being open to the presence and action of spiritual life within me. This practice helps me let go of the thoughts, feelings, and ideas which emerge in me.
My own internal conversation makes it challenging to listen. The prayer I practice is about not allowing my thoughts to distract me from listening.
In my experience, it is unlikely I will hear much during the time I set aside to pray. I am learning to be open to spiritual life. There does not tend to be much in the way of direct or dramatic messages for me while I am praying.
I tend to hear more after I spend time listening.
Sacred stillness is deep like the ocean, only deeper. My listening is not like deep sea fishing where I am hoping to catch something each time. For me, listening is more like standing on the beach looking out to the horizon.
I listen to remember the rhythms of the ocean and restore the rhythms within me. Praying brings me back into sync with the deep flow of sacred stillness.
We hear when we are listening, not necessarily while we are listening.
What Are We Trying to Hear?
When I began learning my practice of contemplative prayer I was aware it was listening. It was as if I were on some level of high alert, searching for sacred stillness. My mind was working hard to find any fragment of it. Was that sacred stillness? Or that?
What I was doing may have been the opposite of contemplative prayer, of listening. I was so anxious about missing something, about not doing it the right way. My anxiety meant I did miss it, I did not pray or listen.
I was straining to hear, but I was not listening.
Listening grows from our confidence, not our insecurity. We listen from the deepest, truest core of who we are. Spiritual life is all around us and within us. We are surrounded and saturated by the deep truths of spiritual life. Listening to sacred stillness is how we remember we can rest in spiritual life.
Some of us expect to hear specific things when we listen. We may be looking for guidance or direction. There may be significant decisions we are trying to make, problems for which we seek answers.
We are working hard trying to discern the right way forward. It is important for us not to miss anything.
With practice, I began to listen from who I was, not just for what I wanted to hear.
The lessons I learn listening to sacred stillness change how I listen to other people.
We listen to people with assumptions and expectations about them and what they are saying. Our expectations and assumptions shape how we listen to people and what we hear them say.
When our expectations are not met we can get confused or frustrated. Our attention is focused on what we want to hear and we might become disappointed.
Listening From a Deeper Place
The people who have taught me the most about listening were people who listened to me.
Each conversation, each exchange carries layers of communication. The more deeply people listened to me the more deeply I learned to listen back.
It is easy for us to get stuck in the shallows when we listen. While shallow listening might feel safer than listening in depth, it limits how well we communicate.
Our understanding and our relationships cannot grow deeper or stronger than how we listen.
We listen by paying attention. I can tell when someone is paying attention to me and when they are not. We recognize when someone is listening to us and when they are not.
It is also easy for us to know when we are listening and when we are not.
When we listen we are engaged. We are not merely pausing to take a breath or think about what we will say next.
We listen with a sense of anticipation, eager to hear what someone will say next. It is not that we are trying to direct or control the conversation. We are discovering together where we are going next.
It was one thing for me to listen to someone answer my questions when I was practicing law. I cross-examined them, moving our conversation in the direction I wanted it to follow.
When we listen to someone the way we listen to sacred stillness, it is different. We are meeting on a deeper level with more possibilities. Our conversation can go anywhere.
Looking for Someone Who Will Listen
We are looking, sometimes desperately, for someone who will listen to us.
As we grow into listening deeply from our true selves, we learn how to listen to ourselves. We recognize, as we spend time listening to sacred stillness, the stillness is listening to us.
Listening is a skill we develop like doing mathematics or playing tennis, but it is also more. We put the pieces together and learn the steps in the dance of listening well. As we develop listening skills we come to see it is more than we expected.
When we listen we become listeners. We do not hear what we expected to hear. Listening takes us beyond where we thought we could go.
When we listen to another person or ourselves the sacred stillness echoes within us.
What can we hear when we listen to sacred stillness today?
How deeply will we listen to other people, or ourselves, this week?
[Image by therealbrute]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is http://StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.