We listen with our ears, our eyes, our skin, our spirits. Listening is the raw input. Hearing is the reception and interpretation of what is heard. We can block out communication, mishear, misunderstand, misinterpret. We filter input through our expectations, biases, and traumas.
The world is noisy. Stop and tune into the sounds around you. What do you hear? I hear my refrigerator, a car driving by, a door slamming, a siren in the distance. In many homes, television or music are on most of the time. On my daily walks through a beautiful park, I observe people wearing headphones or earbuds, thereby missing sounds of the river, breeze ruffling leaves, and birdsong. They miss their own thoughts, distracted by whatever they are listening to.
“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”
― Alfred Brendel
A. HEARING ANOTHER PERSON
Person A: “You’re not hearing me.”
Person B: “I’m listening.”
Person A: “But you’re not hearing.”
One of the biggest challenges in any relationship is communication. When I work with couples in counseling, most are challenged by communication. If they are arguing non-constructively (often the case) one thing we talk about is how to discuss a pressing topic: schedule a time and place, keep the discussion to topic at hand, structure so each person has an allotted time to speak without the other responding. At the end of that time, the listener recaps what she/he heard. If the first speaker believes their message was received, the second speaker continues by offering their perspective. If not, speaker A restates and again seeks response. And so on. If it’s a “hot-button” issue, it is best to have the conversation in the public place.
2. Body Language – This is written in the mask-wearing era. How much harder is to listen, much less hear what another is saying while wearing masks? I find it difficult and disconcerting. We communicate volumes with our facial expressions, posture, relative positioning, hand gestures, and eye movement. We are subconsciously aware of the body language of others, but are oftentimes less aware of the messages we send out.
B. HEARING ONESELF
Yes, we communicate with ourselves.
- Dreams – Do you listen to the communication of your dreams? I keep a dream journal, noting in as much detail as possible the content of the previous night’s dreams. As we sleep the deep levels of our interpretive awareness are accessed. While the setting and the people may be drawn from daily life, look deeply at what happens. Understand the dream as symbolic. See the characters as aspects of yourself. It’s great fun. Ultimately, we must interpret our own dreams, although an intuitive dream interpreter may be of assistance. Unsurprisingly, recurring dreams are those with the most to teach is.
- Conscience – Jewish tradition teaches of two competing voices or inclinations, which are constantly vying for our attention: the Yetzer Tov (good inclination) and the Yetzer Hara (bad inclination). The voice we listen to most often becomes stronger, and the one we ignore or suppress becomes weaker. Each of us is free to make thousands of choices each day–what we say, think, do, wear, eat, buy, watch, listen to. The list is endless. The Yetzer Tov seeks to lead us toward honesty, health, gentleness, truth. The Yetzer Hara counsels dishonesty, unhealthy behaviors, violence, deception. Decades ago, I sought to quit smoking cigarettes. I clearly recall a “little voice” in my mind urging me to “just have one.” One was, of course, never just one. Eventually, I tuned out that voice and kept in my mind a list of the people in my life who didn’t smoke. If they could do it, so could I, and I did.
- Monkey Mind – With all do respect to our kindred creatures, the image of “monkey mind” resonates for those who endure racing minds and obsessive thoughts, as if the accelerator pedal in their brain is stuck. This may be a symptom of a serious mental health condition, or it may be a habit that can be alleviated by thought monitoring, quiet time, and some form of meditative practice.
- Think About What You’re Thinking About – Thought monitoring can be immensely helpful in dealing with unwanted thoughts, preventing rash decisions, changing unhelpful habits, and becoming a more positive and caring person. If you become aware of angry or fearful thoughts, which are basically the same thing, replace them with, “I will trust and I will not be afraid,” or “All is well; I am safe.” If you are having negative thoughts about yourself, replace with, “I am doing my best,” or “I can either change this, or learn to live constructively with it.” For negative thoughts about another, try a classic, “Do onto others as you would have them do to you.”
- Meditation (Bridging outside oneself) – Have you tried meditation and not had success? It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it has to be appropriate for you. Some people find sitting meditation to be very helpful. In the past, I struggled until I discovered walking meditation. Slipping away from oneself into a deep and soaring silence grounds and heals us. Give it a try. Find your own best method.
C. HEARING NATURE
- Find a Place – It could be a park, an untended and overgrown lot, your backyard, your balcony, or a country lane. Basically, anywhere outdoors which isn’t totally eradicated by development. My personal idea of hell is a mega-mall surrounded by acres of treeless paved parking. Return regularly to a location and you will develop a relationship.
- Unplug Your Ears -This is self-explanatory. Trust, you can take a break from your music or podcasts. You’ll be fine.
- What Might You Hear? – Creatures, wind, flowing water, trees, grasses. Those who are sensitive may hear even more…
D. HEARING BETWEEN THE LINES
- Hearing Even More – Listen openly and you will receive. This might be the real meaning of a loved one’s words. Or the pain behind friend’s sarcasm. Or the truth under the lie. This takes whole body listening. At times I can perceive the flow of sap within trees. There are frequencies of sound below and above the range of our normal hearing, messages for us, if we only listen.
- Poetry – A few poems can be read at face value. “Listen, my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere”. Most poetry must be read in levels–the words, the meaning behind, between, and amongst the words. That’s what I mean by “listening between the lines”, as applied to life.