Imagine what it would feel like if everyone you spoke to, and everyone you met listened deeply to all you had to say, with obvious empathy and without once interrupting or interjecting their own thoughts or feelings. How does it feel to envision a world in which everyone listens respectfully to everyone else? Can you picture your family, neighborhood, and community all listening to one another deeply and fully?
Heart-centered, open-minded listening provides us with the power to change the world, one conversation at a time. When our personal truth is honored, we feel an enhanced sense of respect, connection, and trust with those who listen deeply to all we have to share. We feel kinder, gentler, and more courageous when we are honored for speaking our truth. Barriers between people of wildly disparate backgrounds crumble and fall, as a sense of shared oneness permeates relationships based on deep listening.
Deep listening allows people to shift between parallel worlds of possibility, moving from communications based in mistrust and doubt, to relationships founded on respect and trust. Deep listening has the power to transform our lives by inviting us to reconsider all manner of assumptions, prejudices, and beliefs. Rather than pushing ideas forward of what we think best and right, we can experience exceptional results by listening to and addressing ideas that are very different from ours. Deep listening is a state of mindfulness we enter humbly, by emptying our mental cup of whatever point we are trying to prove, and whatever beliefs we fear may be threatened. Deep listening requires a courageous leap of faith, as all preconceived notions are set aside in order to give one’s full attention to what is right here, right now.
The basic steps involved in mastering the art of deep listening can be taught and learned. They involve providing speaker and listener with a time and place to converse, and providing steps for the listener to follow that serve to inspire confidence, trust, and openness from the speaker. Within such a framework, listening becomes an active process, in which the listener demonstrates respect for the speaker as a person, and respect for what the speaker focuses on. The art of paying such rapt attention to a speaker may seem unusual, yet people everywhere recognize listeners who show such uncommon levels of interest and respect.
I had an extraordinary experience with the power of my deep listening to transform the world when I was involved in a grass-roots local political campaign to rebuild a Berkeley neighborhood elementary school in the early 1990s. The school site council I led faced overwhelming opposition from the superintendent and the school board members. Some of us felt discouraged because we were completely disregarded by those with the power to influence change. Rather than more loudly proclaim our point of view, I actively sought out and listened deeply to all aspects of each school site council member’s concerns. Through listening deeply to what they had to say, we addressed their concerns one at a time, slowly but surely changing the school board votes from “no” to “yes” for our proposal. I experienced amazing intuitive guidance during that time, which further revealed the power of listening as the ultimate way to influence positive change in the world. Before one evening’s school board meeting, I was about to drive my car out of my driveway, when an overwhelming impulse to stop the car and pick one of the roses on my rose bush became too tempting to ignore. I carried that salmon-colored rose with me into the large room where the school board meeting was to be conducted that evening, and followed another powerful impulse to place the rose on the table of a school board member who’d been on the fence regarding our proposal. I wrote a note that simply said, “Please vote according to your conscience,” which I left with the rose. When the doors to the closed chambers opened, and the school board members entered the room, I was stunned to see the woman I’d left the note for embrace the rose lovingly in her hands for the entire meeting… a rose whose color exactly matched the two piece suit she was wearing!
One of the most radical, powerful, effective actions we can take in any situation is to choose to listen deeply. Deep listening is akin to the eastern concept of Yin, whose complement is the active Yang. We are blessed to live in a highly interactive universe, full of energetic responses to our every thought, feeling, and action. While we often become preoccupied with getting things done by projecting our thoughts, feelings and actions, we can lose our balance if we forget to be as receptive as we are active. Attaining a state of optimal receptivity for deep listening requires that we achieve a disciplined state of mindfulness in which we remain alert, open-hearted, and open-minded. Such disciplined mindfulness can be attained by a variety of methods, including athletes refer to as being “in the zone,” what psychologists call “active listening,” what Quakers call, “a clearness committee,” and what physicists and linguists call, “Bohmian dialogue.”
Get In the Zone
Before delving into relationships we have with others, we can begin the art of deep listening by mastering the fine art of listening to ourselves – by learning a more disciplined way to hear our own self-talk. Some of the top experts in this field of expertise are athletes, who must learn to master mind-body clarity and discipline in order to succeed. Athletes refer to the optimal state of mind-body clarity as being “in the zone” – a rarefied state of consciousness in which performance is exceptional and consistent, automatic and flowing. Mental conditioning trainers such as Trevor Moawad explain that the average person engages in self-talk at a rate of 300 to 1,000 words a minute, and this self-talk can range from being phenomenally empowering to extremely self-critical and self-destructive. Athletes learn that the way they handle their self-talk makes a tremendous difference in their performance, particularly at times when things don’t go according to plan. Good mental conditioning allows athletes to recognize when their self-talk is negative, positive, or escapist, and to manage thought processes accordingly. Rather than attempting to eradicate negative self-talk, athletes learn ways to rapidly switch mental gears any time negative thoughts arise, either to positive self-talk, or by asking themselves how a mentor or role model might handle a particular setback or challenge. Athletes show us that optimal human performance is achieved when we feel relaxed, alert, confident and strong… in a state of mind-body harmony that allows us to experience seemingly magical states of synchronized balance.
Master Active Listening
Thomas Gordon coined the term “active listening” in the 1970’s to describe the importance of paying full attention when hearing others speak. The three main components of active listening are: comprehending, retaining, and responding. While the individual steps involved in active listening seem simple and straightforward, they can be challenging when conversations are emotionally charged, competitive, or full of conflict. At such times, additional tools in the active listening tool belt come in especially handy, such as the four-step Non-Violent Communications process (also known as Compassionate Communication) developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960’s which consists of conveying one’s observation, feelings, needs, and request. Active listening provides people with ways to talk to almost anyone about just about anything, while empowering both listener and speaker in the process. Rather than feeling blamed or judged, people can begin to recognize areas of shared interest and connection, as well as begin to develop a better sense of empathy for what others are feeling, and what they need. Learning and utilizing active listening skills is one of the best ways to ‘be the change you wish to see in the world,’ teaching others by example how to compassionately respect and honor the true feelings and needs of others in our lives.
Create A Clearness Committee
In the 1660’s, the Quakers created a spiritual process guided by simple rules, including an understanding that what transpires within dialogue be treated confidentially, and not shared with anyone afterward. A clearness committee is initiated by a focus person, who selects committee members from the most diverse variety of backgrounds, experiences, ages, and viewpoints possible. The focus person writes about the past, present and future aspects of area of concern, and shares this with committee members prior to meeting. When the group convenes, committee members are forbidden from speaking to the focus person in any way other than asking honest, open questions, such as, “Did you ever feel like this before?” “Who are you trying to please?” or “How will you change?” Committee members are encouraged to remain totally attentive, and to ask brief questions inspired by intuition. The focus person responds to questions as they are asked, taking the conversation deeper and deeper… with the understanding that the focus person is in control of the process, with the power to not answer questions. Clearness committees are expected to help individuals become better focused on the true nature of their questions and concerns, in ways that provide them with a deeper, fuller sense of themselves in relationship to their area of focus.
Experience Bohmian Dialogue
Physicist David Bohm’s provided a significant contribution to a better understanding of quantum physics through a theory that described the universe of having an enfolded, or implicate, order in which space and time are no longer the primary factors nor foundation by which all of reality exists and interacts. Bohm proposed that our belief in so-called laws of space and time arise from our experience of an explicate order… one that arises from a unifying undivided whole. Intrigued by the striking similarity between Bohm’s worldview and that of the Blackfoot and other indigenous tribes, Leroy Little Bear approached physicist David Bohm and initiated the first “Language of Spirit” dialogue with scientists, linguists, and indigenous scholars and elders in 1992. The Bohmian-inspired Language of Spirit dialogues encourage participants to sense underlying oneness while consciously suspending self-defensiveness, and to actively engage in experiencing new perceptions through listening deeply. These annual dialogues are mediated by an indigenous elder, and continue for several days. One person at a time speaks when feeling inspired, and others listen, in a talking circle dialogue format, until the speaker says everything he or she feels strongly inspired to share.
The deep listening I’ve experienced has affected me in ways that defy simple explanation, leaving me with a keen sense of being better and more completely attuned to everyone and everything around me. I can feel my heart more fully open, and I can sense stronger connections between my heart and others. I’ve witnessed people befriend those whose experiences and worldviews were vastly different, and seen emotional dams burst open and healing tears flow forth. I’ve watched people bridge rifts that seemed impossibly deep and wide, and develop trust and respect for those they’d previously feared and mistrusted.
When we improve our ability to listen deeply, we see profound benefits to our civilization and world that we could not have predicted nor foreseen. Deep listening opens the doors to our hearts, and enables us to feel an expanded sense of belonging and connectedness with friends, family, colleagues, neighbors and strangers… who might not stay strangers very long.
This article is one of three chapters written by Cynthia Sue Larson in Sacred Shift: You Are the World
You can watch me discuss this topic on my YouTube video, Shift the World with Deep Listening... and please feel free to comment with your thoughts and ideas here on this blog and in the comments under the video. I’d love to know how you feel!