On Deep Listening: Hearing Others on Their Own Terms
Updated: Oct 6, 2019
“Mom, you never listen. This is what ruins my whole 7th grade year!”
Yesterday my 12yo daughter was quite upset because I had not picked up the library books she had requested and therefore she was unable to complete her homework assignment. After she went to bed, I emailed her teacher to admit responsibility of my negligence. The next morning my daughter blasted me for interfering. There was my email - true, timely, kindly worded, but absolutely useless. And, according to her: “This is what ruins my whole 7th grade year!”
Although I had hoped that the email would help relieve my daughter’s stress, the consequence was otherwise. From this, I learned. I was reminded once again to drop my agenda and to hear others on their own terms.
Many times I have heard people say: “Oh I didn't mean that; I didn't intend it that way.” Similarly I have heard myself respond to another's unhappiness with the defense of my actions, and in this instance with my daughter, I could hear words forming in my head to support the image of myself as a good mother with good intentions to protect and help. Yet, there was no need for me to explain.
“No, mom. Not now.”
Regardless of my intentions, what was important was to recognize and learn from the impact of my words and actions. This is the beginning of wise action. To know that, I must put down my own agenda, move over so that she has space to be and space to express her distress in her own ways. If I am successful in “dropping my agenda” and “moving over”, I might just be able to have a glimpse of the world from her perspective. I might just be able to understand… and, connect.
Today my practice is to see how my words and actions land. I feel less need to defend myself from any wrongdoing or unwholesome intentions. I want to learn skillful actions and take the time to listen to feedback, and take the time for the feedback to sink in. This has been an incredibly humbling experience - one that reminds me over and again that really, I don’t know.
“Let's just drop the pretense that I understand what you're saying. Let's just pretend that I don't know half of what you're saying, and in fact, not even half of what I am saying.”
In framing our conversation this way, my husband and I have been able to shift the broken record of our relationship. Rather than getting into the same fight, we are starting to see each other anew. Instead of thinking that we know, we free ourselves for an “I don’t know mind.” We drop our own agendas, move over, and make space for another. In clearing up space, new ways of knowing and relating are now possible.
However, this is not an easy practice. It is one that we repeat and remind ourselves over and over again. Each time we burn with strong emotions -hurt, abandonment, or injustice, we feel almost immediately the accompanying impulses to fix, save, hurt, help, and validate. It can feel so good to tell the other person off, so I think. But practice has told me otherwise. Practice has shown me that blaming does not lead to freedom nor healing. So I refrain. I get silent. Turning inwards first, I attend with the utmost kindness to the burn. I listen to what is arising and passing internally so that this “I” could be heard and any agenda understood and released.
Feeling the impulses we must, but acting out we must not. We don’t need to act out our impulses in order to feel validated. In tuning in, we soothe the drama of our impulses. When we burn no longer, we are much more able to drop our agenda, move over, and listen to another on their own terms. The relationship becomes two-way, and the knowing inclusive and mutual.
Although not an easy practice, deep listening can bring greater confidence to ourselves and our relationships. This kind of inner, wholehearted listening offers an inner comfort and validation - a lamp unto ourselves and a balm to soothe our burns. When we practice deep listening, we can truly hear and heal ourselves. We see our conceit and attachment to how we and the world should behave. When this agenda is recognized and dropped, the space is cleared, and we can begin to hear others on their own terms. We can see beyond our views, and we can respond wisely. Life breathes anew with freshness and love.