Are We Listening?

What is listening and is it possible to truly listen and understand others?

In essence, listening means understanding, something that, it seems, is becoming very rare in our modern society. We are, in fact, experiencing a growing sense of conflict in our world.
The Brexit debate has given us a very good example of “not listening”. People share with others how they feel about Brexit, but by strongly expressing their views to them and not listening to the others points of views, they very quickly come to a place of disagreement followed by rejection. There is no space for any listening and mutual understanding. Televised debates are a good illustration of what is happening in our country.

Listening and communication go hand in hand, and for many of us it is very important to communicate how we feel. If we can’t express our feelings it feels like something is being taken away from us, like we are not allowed to even exist. Due to this, there is a huge amount of energy in our need to express and communicate our opinions, and how we feel about things. It is very important to acknowledge this need. In reality, in all of us there is a deep desire to want to be listened to, which is connected to the deep need to be accepted for who we are.

There is nothing more painful for any human being than to be rejected, ignored, repressed or not allowed to express who they are and how they feel. In every one of us, lives this internal world, that asks for the right to exist and find a place in the world for its expression.

This is where listening comes into the equation. Listening is, in fact, the process of receiving the other, of allowing the other person’s reality to exist. Regardless of their beliefs and whether you agree or disagree with them. In fact, in true listening one doesn’t need to agree with the beliefs of the other. You agree to give him or her the space to be able to express what and how they feel. This is why true listening is so radical and so transformative and can alleviate so much suffering.
This is why true listening can help where there are conflicts and differences.

To listen is not easy. Before we can listen to someone, we need to notice the whole cacophony of thoughts, ideas, internal commentaries and belief systems that get activated as soon as the other opens their mouth. There are layers of judgment, discrimination, and perceptions that get activated when the other person starts to speak. Depending on our relationship to them, there is a huge amount of personal and cultural baggage that kicks in when we listen or better said, not listen.

Ironically, the first step in listening to someone, is to see how we don’t listen and begin to understand what’s going on inside of us and why we get so triggered. For this to happen we need to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness gives us the capacity to create an internal space in which we can see what’s going on inside while the other speaks. So, in effect, through mindfulness, what we are doing is starting to listen to two people. The one who is speaking and ourselves, our own internal commentary and reactions. This sheds light on an amazing reality that has been living inside of us all the time but we were very little aware of. The reality of who we think we are and therefore who we think the other is.
It is this belief system that becomes an important obstacle to our capacity to listen, and there is no one who doesn’t have some belief system running through their head when listening to someone else.

Listening then becomes a training in mindfulness. The more mindful we are, the better equipped we are to listen and observe what’s happening inside. Slowly uncovering the roots of those belief systems and conditioning that prevents real listening, mutual understanding and more importantly, mutual acceptance. Our hearts have this intuition that there is more that unites us than separates us, but because of these unconscious patterns within we are blocked from seeing this.

By learning to listen, you are, in fact, loving the other person. This is not a romantic notion of love. It’s a love that goes beyond separation, distinction, discrimination and even knowledge. It’s a love that deep down recognises that we are all human beings, that we are one family. The other is myself and I am the other.

If are to create a world where there is less conflict and more love, then we need to learn to listen.

Posted by

Michael Schwammberger

Michael been practising mindfulness and meditation since 1992. Most of his training took place in Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh's centre in France. He has been facilitating mindfulness and meditation retreats since 1997 as a Buddhist monk and as lay since 2012. He has helped in creating and running various mindfulness programmes in the UK and Spain.