Listening Between the Lines
by Matt Valois
(windyville, mo, USA)
Listening Between the Lines
By Matt Valois
When people think about listening, many things might come to mind. Some people may recall a beautiful song they've heard, while others shrink in embarrassment of their own “tone deafness.” Some might begin to feel proud about being a good listener, while others chuckle at themselves for the difficulty they have with following verbal instructions. A mother might worry about her son who doesn't listen to her advice. An employee might hope that the boss listens to his new proposal. Listening encompasses all of these situations and more.
In the book Master Living, Dr. Barbara Condron, faculty at the School of Metaphysics, defines listening as “stilling the mind with the expectation of receiving.” While ears allow us to hear, we all know that something can “go in one ear and out the other.” Listening, on the other hand, can involve all five senses. Listening is more than just hearing something. It is learning how to receive something completely.
When someone tells someone else that they are “a good listener,” it often means that they felt received. They were allowed to communicate openly about something without the other person jumping to conclusions or passing judgments. Good listening can create a safe and secure space for someone to work through something that is troubling them and create a stronger connection, friendship and understanding.
I work as a life skills trainer with adults who have development disabilities. One day, two of my clients came rushing into the house. They were yelling at each other over a misunderstanding, and the situation continued to escalate. Neither one of them were listening to each other or any suggestions to calm down. At that moment, both of them needed some space away from each other if anything was going to be resolved. I turned to “Charles” (name changed to keep anonymity) and said, “Let's go outside and sit in my car. It sounds like you have a lot on your mind.”
We entered the car and Charles began to tell me what happened. “I was trying to talk on the phone and “Roger” turned up the radio. I was aggravated that I couldn't hear, and he wasn't turning it back down.” I could have said, “Well, couldn't you wait until you got home to call?” or “He also has a right to use the radio,” or even “Let me go talk some sense into him,” if I was inclined. However, I opted to say, “It sounds like your call was important.”
He agreed with me and told me how he was worried about his Dad's health. He was calling his Dad to see when he could visit him. Charles then talked about a situation at work that day where he was feeling stressed out about a supervisor coming the next day to inspect his work. The conversation then went to anxiety about personal finances, a headache he was having, and a desire to go to his room that night to have some time to himself.
“Charles, it sounds like you have a lot of different things on your mind.”
The conversation continued in this manner for 20 minutes. Charles continued to talk about all the things on his mind, which allowed his mind to gradually empty itself. Talking things out helped him to calm down and clear his head. He then started to make his own conclusions about what he needed to do.
“Matt, I think I need to go apologize to him for yelling at him. Then I'm going to call my Dad.”
“That sounds like a good plan Charles. Do you feel better now than what you felt 20 minutes ago?”
“Yeah. Thanks Matt. You're really cool just to talk about things to. I feel much better and I think I'm ready to go back inside.”
One of the important keys to listening is recognizing that everyone wants to be heard. Everyone! There are times when we want to share what's on our mind: a new creative idea, a humorous joke that we heard on the radio, a worry that's been building up over time, a situation that we want to resolve with a significant other. We express our thoughts so we can begin to see them for what they are. Have you ever had the experience of trying to figure things out yourself and ending up with much more heartache and confusion than what you started with, because you didn't share your thoughts with someone else? Thoughts are real things. If they aren't expressed, they keep bouncing around the mind like popcorn. With this in mind, listening and fully receiving another person's thoughts, feelings, perspectives and opinions can be one of the most healing things you can do for another person. Sometimes, it doesn't require you to say a whole lot or even have all the answers.
Listening can also enrich your experience of anything. Because it is the ability to receive, you'll naturally receive more out of your relationships with other people, your work, and your interests the more you develop listening – even in wondrous and unexpected ways.
This past February, I had the opportunity to be the sound engineer on the filming set of The Invitation – a movie version of a play written by Dr. Barbara Condron that explores what would happen if eight Nobel Peace Laureates from different backgrounds and time periods met with each other. Equipped with an audio recorder and high-quality headphones, my job was to record the audio during each scene and alert the director of miscellaneous sounds that might interfere with the filming process.
As I concentrated upon listening, I marveled at the sounds I was able to catch that would have otherwise gone unnoticed: insects flying into lights, the unintentional shuffling of feet, finger tapping on the side of the director's chair, a rooster crowing in the distance and the sound of a misplaced page turn that could have interfered with an actor's dialogue. I even heard the faint rumblings of the heater downstairs that was imperceptible to the unaided human ear. The sole focus on listening helped us maintain our film quality.
Listening also allowed me to fully receive the sanctity of a scene where no words were spoken. Mother Teresa, one of the peace laureates, knelt to the floor, placed a candle on the table and clasped her hands together in prayer. The sacredness of the moment could be heard in the gentle rustling of her clothing. Gentleness radiated from the soft clink of the candle coming into contact with the glass surface of the table. Sincerity of her silent prayer expressed itself in the sound of her slow, deep breathing. Heightened listening connected me to her mind's intent in that moment. Even with my eyes closed, listening allowed me to “see” this breathtaking scene.
Listening is an art that can allow you to receive anything on a deeper level. Hesitation in someone else's voice can shed light on inner anxieties that you can help alleviate through listening. A single sung note in a song could carry the emotional complexities of the message being expressed. Appreciation can be felt in the sound of silence. Truly listening to your heart might lead to unparalleled discoveries.
Practice focusing on the conversation at hand, the song that's playing on the radio, the sound of your breathing, or anything else of your choosing. Let go of random thoughts and judgments and practice listening and receiving, while expecting something new to arise from your experience. With practice, new worlds will unfold before your eyes and ears, and you’ll learn to “listen between the lines.” In time, you will become “a good listener.”