Conscious Listening

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.

~Ernest Hemingway

StillnessHi, my name is Ron, and I’m a recovering unconscious listener. For most of my life, I’ve had a difficult time listening to others. I’m not talking about adult attention deficit disorder (AADD) or pigheadedness but rather just plain inattentiveness to others when they were speaking.

There have been so many embarrassing times in my life when someone would say to me, “You weren’t listening, were you?”  On one occasion, I bumped into a couple who were former neighbors, and whom I had not seen nor spoken to for a few years. As we were having a catch-up conversation, the husband announced they had recently had their second child.

Some part of my on-board auditory perception system did detect those words — but not before I could blurt out to the wife, “Soooo, when are you due?” Yes, you guessed it, she wasn’t pregnant but had just delivered her baby recently. Ouch! Note to self: never ever ask a woman under any circumstances about her due date.

Even when I was seriously concentrating in a conversation with someone, my thoughts would take over, and I’d find myself thinking about what my next words would be rather than really listening.

This is a problem in our world today too. We all truly want to be heard and understood, and it is a foundational part of intimacy in relationships.

In his phenomenally popular book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes: “When listening to another person, don’t just listen with your mind, listen with your whole body. You are giving the other person space – space to be. It is the most precious gift you can give.”

I am a much better listener today. This new skill did not happen to me by grimacing and concentrating even harder when someone is speaking. I tried that too, and it was unsustainable as my looping mind just kept me trapped in all the noise it was making. Better listening happened naturally when I recognized the incessant activity of my own mind and practiced quieting my noisy thoughts.

True listening … is the arising of alert attention, a space of presence in which the words are being received. The words now become secondary. They may be meaningful or they may not make sense. Far more important than what you are listening to is the act of listening itself, the space of conscious presence that arises as you listen. ~Eckhart Tolle

Quieting the mind and becoming aware of silence has revolutionized my life. I’m more consistently at peace internally as I recognize my thought patterns and how the looping minutiae of the mind is ready on the sidelines to jump in.

Conscious listening is a spiritual discipline and a mindset for success that must worked on daily. In each interaction with others you must show up and be very alert observing the person in front of you and observing your own current state. Being fully present creates depth within you and a connection with others who will find it irresistible and calming.

What have you learned about being a conscious listener?

Please share your thoughts on ways that you practice alert attention in the comments below.

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