We tend to confuse our thinking about a relationship with the relationship itself.
Much of the time when we interact with someone, we’re interacting with our thinking: memories, judgments, hopes, or expectations of the person. Our feelings of that person come from previous experiences with them, and the previous experiences become anticipations of how they’ll act this time around too. In other words, when we’re engaging with another person, we’re mostly engaging with the past or the future related to that person.
The issue here, though, is that there’s only ever the present. In the present, the past is a memory and the future is a fantasy, both of which are thoughts. Hence, we tend to confuse our thinking about a relationship with the relationship itself.
True listening can only occur in the present. In a conversation, we may draw on memories from the past, or we may reference hopes, fears, expectations, and fantasies for the future. But listening is a present phenomenon. And while we have judgments, ideas, and criticisms come to mind while listening, we don’t need to feed them with energy or focus. In true listening, we feed with energy our awareness of what the other is actually communicating.
There are four levels in every communication that true listening can hear:
Hear what’s being said. Don’t just listen to the first few words and then think you understand where they’re going. Hear everything they’re saying. If you’re struggling to hear the other person through the filter of your own thinking, then repeat the other person’s words in your head. It’s simple and gets the job done. This allows their spoken thoughts to take precedence in your thinking mind over your own thoughts.
Hear the emotion behind what’s being said. We’re not just hearing a description or a story. There’s a person there talking to us, and people are always feeling something. What is the speaker feeling as they talk to you? What’s the emotion behind what they’re saying.
Hear the commitment or intention behind what’s being said. We’ve always got an intention or commitment behind our communications. Unless we’re practiced at creating specific intentions before conversations, mostly our intentions are default intentions. But they’re still intentions! Examples of intentions or commitments we may hear: being right, surviving, feeling good, making the world a better place, respect and honor, compassion, understanding, etc.
Hear the gold, the genius, the divine in the person expressing themselves. Hearing the gold means finding nuggets of truth or insight in what the other is saying. Humans are beautiful and elegant beings. In all interactions we really can get in touch with the true self of the person we’re talking with. (By true self I mean the unbreakable, untarnishable, perfect spiritual essence at the source of ourselves and each other. If we are breathing, that part of us is there.) Practicing hearing this part of people is the biggest gift we can give them, and it’s likely the biggest gift we can give ourselves too. This is an access to unconditional love.
These four levels of listening may just peel back the illusions of our thinking about the other. When this happens, we get in touch with the person actually there with us, and it's nearly impossible to not get moved by or feel love for who we see.
Thanks so much for reading. ❤️
P.S. Our workshop for adults, Tools We Should’ve Learned Years Ago, is ending this week. I’m so grateful to the participants who have made this such a powerful experience for me and each other. And I'm grateful to you, my readers, who have encouraged me to pursue sharing the transformative power of these ideas.