We don’t listen. We interrupt. We’re not present. We go off on a tangent in our mind. We prepare our answer. We don’t listen.

We also don’t listen because our mind and senses are too full already. Not fulfilled, but full of ‘noise.’ Nothing else can get in.

And if we do listen it’s through many filters. Filters of expecting, judgment, superiority or inferiority, hurts and wounds, or politeness with a dismissal already aimed. The filter may be anticipating, hoping, or planning too.

We also don’t listen because we don’t care enough.

It’s an unfortunate paradox that in an age when technology is supposed to help us communicate better, we’re experiencing a poverty of connection and intimacy.

A solution exists. As with many solutions, it begins with our inner life. True listening only occurs if we’re inwardly silent and attentive. This silence isn’t ordinary silence. It’s not only the silence of not talking. It’s a cultivated silence, which means we spend quality time being quiet. Not only being quiet in meditation and other practices, or carrying the quiet these create with us, but creating space for voluntary silence.

Voluntary silence is a lifestyle choice. It doesn’t mean we retire from society and become a modern hermit, although retreats deepen the well of silence within us. It simply means we recognize the need to rest our senses from the onslaught of information, advertising and digital noise.

The trouble is that silence is uncomfortable initially. And it stays that way unless we’re willing to cross the threshold. Even one step across the threshold and we’re encouraged by the benefits of silence, benefits that multiply as we remain in the quiet regularly.

Silence is where we learn to listen, where we learn to see. — Joan Halifax

Just as there’s a direct relationship between silence and true listening, there’s also a direct link between silence and peace. Silence is inherently peaceful. The sound of wind, chimes, birds or water doesn’t break silence. Certain music doesn’t either. Silence isn’t necessarily the absence of sound, although certain sounds are obviously disharmonious.

The silence where peace resides is an internal orientation. Peace feeds silence, and silence feeds peace. The more committed we are to active cultivation of silence, the more readily peace is available. The more we access peace, the more comfortable we are with silence.

Dipping into peace and silence regularly leads to being able to listen from openness. Our reactions are quieted and insightful listening can occur. This begins with listening to ourselves, our own mental machinations and emotional ups and downs. As we sort out our various ‘knots’ and dilemmas, peace increases.

[…] we can’t really listen to others until we learn to listen, exquisitely listen, and TO ABIDE by our own heart.

— Gail Sher

The same principles apply when it comes to our relationship with others. It’s difficult to receive someone else without filters set in place by lifelong habits of busyness. As a result, communication is doomed from the start.

One solution is to spend time in quiet reflection:

  • To feel how we want to treat ourselves and be treated by others.
  • To remember that all human beings wish to be pain-free, happy, and not go hungry.
  • To sense if we care as much if others get their needs met as we do our own.
  • To feel what need of ours prevents agreement with another person.

Listening creates a holy silence. When you listen generously to people, they can hear truth in themselves, often for the first time. And in the silence of listening, you can know yourself in everyone.

— Rachel Naomi Remen

As individuals we’re also part of systems, and the reflections above can be helpful in group situations as well. We may be a part of many ‘systems’: a company, civic or nonprofit organization, a club, a hobby community, religious or ethnic group, and others.

In any of these group communications, we can implement the following:

  • Request someone to do something, rather than demand it.
  • State what we prefer someone to do (positive), instead of what don’t want them to do (negative).
  • Before taking a position on someone’s opinions or statements, hone in on what they are feeling.

None of this is possible without true listening, which itself isn’t possible without the cultivation of silence. We can’t listen to others, if we’re not hearing ourselves deeply first. Our inner noise is quieted as we take the lead of insights arriving in silence. Outer noise is quieted as we establish time away from it. Then when we face a person or a group, we’re prepared and responsive from a place of peace.

Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing.

— Rachel Naomi Remen



Listening to Others

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True Listening Contributes to Inner, Interpersonal, and Systemic Peace

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