Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Crucial Skill of Listening

One of the most difficult skills to master is listening. Listening seems simple, but the mind makes it highly complicated. And, listening is not just about other people, it’s also about being aware of our surroundings and listening to our lives. We ignore people, our surroundings and ourselves with grave consequences: loss of understanding, loss of presence, loss of effectiveness. Listening is also not a passive endeavor. In fact, listening is the most active of mental functions. When it breaks down, often our lives break down.

Before embarking on how we can become better listeners, we first must examine what the role of listening has in our daily lives and our daily interactions with others. Listening to others and to the world around us is crucial. This is the type of listening most people consider to be listening. It is the foundation of our families, our relationships and our communities. With the advent of 24/7 news coverage and the internet, the potential for listening has expanded to encompass nearly the entire globe. Yet, the ability to listen seems to be diminishing rapidly within modern culture.

What we glean from listening to others and to the world around us can assist us in our daily lives. We can discover the problems of others are often similar to our own. This is really the core of what listening to others can do for us. It helps to bridge the gap between us. That gap is only a creation of mind.

We are all absolutely linked with one another. If we don’t feel this is true, we need to explore this completely. We breathe the same air; we all need to drink and eat food; we all have a beating heart. We also live on the same planet using the same resources in order for all of those aspects of living to take place. Some are better off, but even the most poverty-stricken human being has the same needs as the wealthiest amongst us.

Therefore, we need to listen to others. We deserve others to listen to us as much as they deserve us to listen to them. However, listening is a one-way street, and the difficulty resides in our own mind. Often, when we talk to someone, while they’re talking, our mind is busy formulating what it wants us to say and to be heard by the other. When this mental activity takes place when the other is talking, we’re not listening at all. This can be so difficult to do at first. We need to have an amazing amount of patience for ourselves to change this internal dynamic.

When wrestling with our own mental activities when listening, we have to continuously catch ourselves when our focus moves away from listening to another. If we use this process to demean ourselves, we’re not going to find much success. We need to be patient with ourselves. We’re interrupting a process that we’ve probably been doing most of our lives. The mind is like a wild animal. It wants to run away when we want to focus. The mind, however, is like a muscle. And, as we begin to explore how we interact and listen to others, we will improve our listening.

It truly is progress when we can truly listen to those in our daily lives. Mostly, we may find agreement with what we hear from those closest to us; sometimes, not so much. However, the most difficult application of listening is to those in which we have profound disagreement. In these more difficult listening opportunities, we have to understand that we don’t have to absorb what we’re listening to. In fact, we can look at this kind of listening as exploration and information gathering. Maybe, we could learn something new about the other side of a disagreement. This new information can aid in better communicating our views in ways that make more sense to the other side. It could broaden our understanding of our own views.  

We can sabotage our ability to listening by thinking we don’t need to be active in our beliefs and ideas. This is easy to do with so many modern sources of information. We can self-select ourselves out of real life engagement, and allow our minds to become lax. Truly, situations and conditions constantly change. Therefore, if we’re not actively listening to others and to our world, we can find ourselves lost in the wilderness of ignorance. Often, we don’t even realize we’re lost. How would we if we don’t have an active effort of listening, to exploring?

When we see those that are lost, it seems so obvious to us. However, we must keep in mind that we have the same capacity within us. We too can quickly become removed from reality, and we do that when we stop listening. This listening needs to also be focused internally as well as externally. If we stop listening to ourselves, we really set ourselves up for failure. Actually, listening should start there.

Our bodies are constantly communicating with us with physical sensations. And, mostly we try to ignore or block these communications with medication, with alcohol or drugs, by keeping busy, by wearing ourselves out completely. The ways in which we ignore our own selves are infinite. And, it is so easy to do in this modern era. Whenever we do anything, we need to understand what the objective is, then, we can know if we’ve achieved it or not.

We must make time and space in our day to listen to not only our bodies, but to our emotions as well. Listening to our emotions can be difficult. Not all emotions feel good, but they are all expressions that deserve to be listened. Each emotion we feel is attempting to tell us something about our life experience. We need to get to know each emotion as they percolate within our conscious and subconscious minds. What is it that each is trying to let us know about? Usually, the emotional states are reactions to pain and suffering, or desire to experience joy and happiness.

By trying to push away or block any emotional state, we’re creating a dam within our minds. We’ve stopped listening to our needs. When we stop listening, we suffer uselessly. Explore all emotions that come about, especially emotions that tend to linger or overwhelm us. These emotions have not been truly explored; we’re not receiving the message they’re trying to convey. It’s an entire language in itself. And, it’s a dynamic language.

Listening is a crucial skill. It is at the heart of our daily lives and daily interactions. As with any exploration, we must be patient with ourselves. If we begin to explore listening in all its diversity, we will begin to see the impacts on our lives and the lives of others. We need only wish to explore and expand our minds. Once we do, it will be like a flower beginning to open itself to the world, to the sunlight and to the rain.

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