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UU SPIRITLIFE – April 2023 Reading

“There is a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”  G.K.Chesterton

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”  Bryant H. McGill

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill

“It takes a great man (person) to be a good listener.” Calvin Coolidge

Dr. Kay Lindahl spent many years working with diverse international groups from many countries focusing on creating dialogue and understanding. In analyzing why she was not getting the success she expected, she realized people were not listening to one another. In 1997 she created The Listening Center in Long Beach CA.

We live in a fast-paced society where we are bombarded with talk all day long.  We ask people ‘how are you?” as a greeting. We respond “fine and you”  hoping they will not go into any detail because we don’t have time to listen. What would it look and feel like if we were to take the time to listen.

Listening is the greatest gift we can give, not only to the recipient but to ourselves. Deep listening is a Sacred Art encompassing slowing down, reflection, meditation, and giving our undivided attention.

I recall when Stan and I met with Bishop Tom Shaw because we wanted to be married in the church and we both had been divorced twice. We were seated across from his desk by his assistant. Bishop Shaw came in, invited us over to his couches, we sat in silence for a minute, and then he opened with a short prayer for guidance.  We had his undivided attention for the next 45 minutes. I had never experienced deep listening like that before.  It was a gift, one I remember vividly 25 years later.

Dialogue vs Discussion

So what’s the difference and does it matter?  Discussion leads from the intellect. “Let’s learn more about the subject”, “lets solve this problem”, etc.  Dialogue leads from the heart and is an open-ended exploration. Dialogue is listening to understand, not to agree or disagree.

Both are ways of communicating and we often switch back and forth between the two. Where difficulty and misunderstandings can occur if one person thinks they are in dialogue and the other discussion.  I tend to be a problem solver when what the other person needed was to share something from his heart. Perhaps I could have recognized the difference if I had taken the time to listen with my heart and not my head.

How do we prepare for Sacred Listening?

Slow down.  Spend time getting down deep in my core through meditation and healing. Take time to to be humble. Learn to forgive myself. Achieve balance and harmony within myself. Being present for me is the first step in being present for others.  (this was a hard paragraph to write because I intentionally used “I” instead of “we”)

All too often we are busy thinking about what WE are going to say next and often miss some of the conversation. It would be far better to listen, then take a moment to gather our thoughts, then respond. The speaker will know we heard them. This builds trust.

On the other hand, sometimes we are interrupted because the hearer assumes he knows what we are going to say.  Not only is this rude, it sends the message he is not listening to us. Trust can be broken.

The Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull said “It (listening) is also one of the most difficult acts. We listen not just with our ears.  We can listen if we’re stone deaf. We listen with our eyes, our hands, our posture, our touch, our stillness, and our mindful letting go of the inner chatter that seduces like the song of the Sirens.  …the most important thing I do is listen.”

We all know people who talk and talk and talk, usually in a superficial and nervous way. This happens when he believes no one is hearing him. Much patience is required to listen to such a person long enough for him to get to his center point of tranquility and peace.

Listening well takes time, skill and a readiness to slow down. Let go of expectations, assumptions, judgements, boredom, self-assertiveness, and defensiveness. When you give the gift of Sacred Listening, it will be returned to you many times forward.

Questions for contemplation:

  • Where does listening show up missing in my life?
  • What is a conversation I need to have? With whom?
  • Are there times when I thought I was having a dialogue and the other person thought we were having a discussion? Did it make a difference?
  • Is there work I need to do to prepare to be a better listener?