By John Schorling
Often people just want to be heard, to have someone really listen to them. We can do this by listening mindfully, listening and paying attention in the same way we pay attention when we are meditating. When we meditate, we choose an object of attention, like the sensations of breathing, and place our attention there. Then when the mind wanders and we begin thinking, as soon as we notice the thinking, we direct the attention back to the sensations of breathing. As we do this, we can check in with our emotional state, noticing how we are feeling.
When we listen to someone else, we can listen in the same way. We can make what they are saying the object of our attention, and notice when we get caught up in the dialogue that often is going on in our heads while we listen, or appear to be listening. As soon as we notice the thinking, we can direct our attention back to listening. We can also notice how we are feeling when we are listening.
Empathy is understanding what another person is experiencing, and has been described as “feeling with” them. When we are really listening and paying attention to another person, what we feel is often a reflection of what they are feeling. When we notice this and respond to it, this can increase our sense of connection. If we notice a feeling of sadness, we might respond by saying “that must be really hard”, or if we notice a feeling of happiness, we might say “that sounds really great”.
When we listen in this way, we can notice the feelings that are arising and respond supportively. We don’t need to give advice or try to fix anything, just like we don’t try to fix our experience while meditating. We just practice intentional present moment awareness without judgement and with kindness. There is no need to judge the other person for what they are saying or feeling, or to judge ourselves for what we are feeling. And we can be kind to ourselves if doing this is difficult, and kind to the person we are listening to if they are experiencing difficulty.
Sometimes listening in this way can be hard, especially if we find that we are experiencing our own strong emotions based on what someone has said. If this is the case, we can pause and notice this, notice that we have been triggered in some way. When this happens, we can acknowledge what we are feeling, and shift our attention to an object that grounds ourselves again, perhaps noticing the physical sensations that are arising in the body, or by taking a few deep breaths, or by noticing our feet. Doing this helps us shift into a neutral state, to not be too caught up in either our emotions or those of the person we are listening to, and allows us to proceed with awareness.
You might want to try listening in this way. It can be an act of kindness for the person you are listening to as well as for yourself.
Filed Under: Monthly Musings