The Power of Deep and Active Listening

by Simon Goland, February 2, 2011

Today’s Reflection is about a seemingly easy and natural-to-us all act. Or maybe not that easy.

I recently made an important, and perhaps life-changing, discovery. My ears are not the same, in their shape. Yes. Who knew. I realized it because one of the two earphones, the left one, of my newly-acquired iPhone, keeps falling out periodically, when I hike or cycle while listening to podcasts of CBC. The earpieces are clearly identical, so it must be something with my ears. Given that it also falls out when I am listening to music or other podcasts means it has nothing to do specifically with CBC either.

It is interesting to notice how the sound travels through my head when that happens. When both ear pieces sit firmly where their designers intended them to be, I am hearing the sounds (and music) somewhere in the center of my head, closer to the seventh chakra. It is as though the sound is everywhere, giving me a fuller, richer experience. I know that professional musicians will call it “stereo,” yet I am not one of them.

However, when the different shape of my left ear doesn’t hold the ear piece any more, the experience of listening changes. The sound somehow becomes incomplete, partial, and I am feeling almost imbalanced inside, as though I disconnect from the sounds coming to me. I find it being an interesting metaphor for listening.

Oftentimes, presence with deep and active listening creates magic. Like the magic of binaural beats, where a new wave frequency emerges in our brain, creating a variety of experiences which have not existed there before. When we are really present with another, listening deeply and actively, holding space for the speaker to bring themselves fully, something magical happens as well. It goes beyond stereo.

“Listening is about closing the mouth and opening our heart.”

These metaphors lead me to the theme of listening, of the deep, active, and compassionate kind. The fact that I am currently also teaching this topic makes life even more interesting, because – how does one teach “deep listening?” Or active? Or compassionate? How does one create the learning experiences which will bring forward the learning of such a crucial theme. It is crucial to our human interactions and the impact these can create for another. Perhaps the following story, Beyond Words, from Ode Magazine, shows the true power deep active listening holds.

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. When we really listen to people there is an alternating current, and this recharges us so that we never get tired of each other. We are constantly being re-created.” – Brenda Ueland

A class on deep listening is coming up, soon. I intend to open it with the following poem, and we shall see how the rest of it unfolds.

A Poem About Listening
Please, just listen.
When I ask you to listen to me,
and you start giving advice,
you have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me
and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way,
you are trampling on my feelings.
When I ask you to listen to me,
and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem,
you have failed me, strange as that may seem.
All I asked was that you listen,
not talk, or do…
just hear.
Advice is cheap:
twenty-five cents will get you both
dear Abby and Billy Graham in the same newspaper,
and I can do that myself.
I’m not helpless.
Maybe discouraged and faltering,
but not helpless.
When you do something for me that I can,
and need to do for myself,
you contribute to my fear and inadequacy.
But when you accept,
as a simple fact,
that I do feel no matter how irrational,
then I can quit trying to convince you
and get about the business of understanding
what’s behind this irrational feeling.
And, when that’s clear,
the answers are obvious
and I don’t need advice.
Irrational feelings make sense
when we understand what’s behind them.
Please listen and just hear me,
and if you want to talk wait a minute for your turn,
and I’ll listen to you.
– Ray Houghton

A sunny week to you all, inside and out.