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The Art of Listening – Why Listen At All?

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If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time thinking about how your communications affect other people — in your family and relationships, in your community, in other countries, and in future generations. But what happens when you get hooked on trying to say or do the “right” thing instead of being receptive to the moment?

In seeking to be there for others many of us can get caught up in so much over-thinking or activity that we can experience a kind of deadening of our senses. When this happens we communicate a state of distraction to those we love. Recently when I went to help a friend during an illness I noticed myself getting caught up in the “to-do” list each day while my friend, despite being very sick, marveled at the miracle of the smallest things when we were together–the vibrant yellow of the daffodils next to her bed, the sound of birds singing to each other outside her window, the warmth and comfort of her soft blankets.

It was only after I left her that I realized I was so caught up in caregiving activities that I had hardly sat down with her to connect and listen. This was a profound reminder to me that when we forget to just notice the moment we can easily miss out on the best that life has to offer. We also miss out on giving our best to those we love.

Mark Nepo’s new book and upcoming program, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, invites us to practice  the surprising and simple art of listening. In his book, Mark asks us to drop our preconceived ideas and get curious, and be nurtured. He starts, appropriately enough, with a question:

But why listen at all? Because listening stitches the world together, because listening is the doorway to everything that matters. It enlivens the heart the way breathing enlivens the lungs. We listen to awaken our heart. We do this to stay vital and alive. This is the work of reverence; to stay vital and alive by listening deeply…. To awaken our heart through the reverence of listening strengthens the fabric that knits us all together. ~Mark Nepo

When we look at communication through the lens of the Five Fields of Knowledge, we begin to experience communication as a way of being available to the poetry of the moment.  Likewise we realize that creativity refers to not only making something, but also to nurturing our creations. If you haven’t already, listen to Mark speak in the video about what happens when we deeply listen.

Luckily, I had a second chance with my friend to give it a shot! And as often happens when I allow myself to be really present for another person, it was as though time slowed and my perceptions became clearer.  As I sat near her bed the blue of her eyes became more vibrant. The musical way she has of talking brought images to mind of her at the piano with her grandson. As she tucked her blanket around herself for warmth, I noticed the strong fingers of a farmer’s daughter and wondered at the many loaves of bread those hands had made and given away to others.  My heart swelled with recognition and love for her, and as I grasped one of those hands in my own, she looked up at me with a radiant, tearful smile.