Listening with an open heart and without agenda is one of the greatest gifts we can offer someone. By listening without judgment, you are affirming their worthiness as a person. You are holding up a mirror so they can see and hear unfamiliar parts of themselves. Listening can relieve suffering and promote peace and understanding.
Deep listening in focused presence is a healing salve for the soul - almost a spiritual experience, like meditation. I first practiced deep listening in high school when I began attending Quaker meetings in Mill Valley, California. We all meditated together in silence unless someone was moved to speak. When that happened, everyone listened deeply without comment. In Quaker meditation, you practice listening for inspiration and then follow your guidance. This experience had a profound influence on me at sixteen—and throughout my life.
It was while listening that I came to know and respect Kathleen Burgy, a spry little woman with twinkling humor and profound wisdom. When I first visited her home on Mount Tamalpais, I learned from the stories she shared that she had built it herself. She was a world traveler and artist, and she had worked for three years with displaced children after World War II in Germany and Yugoslavia. Her ability to deeply listen to me, track what I said, and reflect back to me her own loving kindness guided my turbulent search to find myself over many decades. Thanks to her, I continue to practice deep listening with others as well as with myself.
Invite a friend or family member to go for a walk or for tea. Ask how that person is doing—and be present for the answer. With sincere open questions, encourage them to share more deeply. Or make a phone call to a good friend. Sometimes it’s when speaking on the phone that we get the chance to really listen. When someone is lonely, sad, or trying to make a big decision, it is a gift to track and remember what is being shared so you can be a clear mirror for them.
Reprinted from Living Life in Full Bloom by Elizabeth Murray. Copyright (c) 2014 by Elizabeth Murray. By permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold.