Our everyday way of living as we know it is disappearing. We are distracted and thus lose connection to others as well as to our own heart. Most of us were taught that busyness and productivity are synonymous with a happy life. Right now, during this enforced “non-productivity time,” we are forced to slow down and notice the fine points of life.
Few of us have mastered the practiced capacity to perceive the extent to which our sense of self is predicated on our work or sense of “usefulness” rather than our innate value as human beings. Therefore we feel anxious and overwhelmed.
Consider for a moment how your world would be different if you were able to move from judgment to compassion when differences divide and polarize you; how much more connected you would feel if you were open to listen more; how would your lives be nourished if you felt heard and understood.
Masters throughout the ages recognize that listening is one of the most precious gifts we can give to another human being. Compassionate listening is a quality of listening which creates a safe container for people to freely express themselves and to go to the level of their deep concerns. It means that we empathize with the feelings and condition of people, who have been affected by events and circumstances, sometimes of their own doing and sometimes out of their control. It helps build trust, connection, understanding, respectful dialogue, and sustainable solutions.
So, if listening is the foundation of all relationships, how is it that so much of the time, and in all too many relationships, we stop being curious, pretending to be there but thinking we already know where we are, who we are with or what they are about. We let the “I know” become a spell of familiarity that prevents us from staying engaged and interested. This certainty is what eventually prevents us from truly hearing the “other”.
And then there are times, especially in the midst of conflict and emotional intensity, when our own feelings prevent us from hearing what the other person has said.
Compassionate listening requires impartiality, at least for the moment. It asks of us to put our own opinions and judgments aside and pay attention to the human in whose presence we are. It does not mean that we agree with the position of the other person, or that s/he is right. It does mean putting our own position aside for the moment, because the other has the right to an opinion.
When we listen to someone with whom we staunchly disagree on deep issues, and when we can reach beyond those issues to the real humanity of that person and connect beyond words, we create a real connection.
Compassionate listening can be learned. Individual preparation involves, primarily learning to come to presence – to bring attention to the “now” – not pulled away by internal judgment and conflicts, nor distracted by ideas and events.
It also means coming to terms with what we don’t like, softening to our likes and dislikes; becoming aware of inner conflicts, practicing centering and working with the shadow parts of ourselves and the cacophony of inner voices within us. This is a human condition and we are not exempt.
Can you make a commitment to show up, sit down and listen?
Amalia Phillips is a long-time educator, Conflict Resolution Facilitator (trained by the Alternatives to Violence Project, USA), a mediator (trained by the Anne Arundel Center for mediation), and a Compassionate Listening Facilitator. She brings the principles of Compassionate Listening to different settings in the Annapolis, DC and Baltimore area including religious organizations, educational institutions, volunteer organizations, and her Listening Room. For more information on her powerful Listening Room, see Amalia’s Facebook page here.