By Jessica Graham
At the beginning of my meditation classes we have a period of introductions and check ins. It’s a time to say, “Hello,” to the group and share anything going on with your practice or in your life. It can become quite emotional and intimate as people open up about what’s really going on. There is a deep sense of safety and trust in the group, even when there are new faces. One of the reasons is that we treat this portion of the class as a meditation too. It’s not just when our eyes are closed and I’m guiding the group in a technique. We aim to be mindful for the entire 90 minutes. This creates a container in which all can feel safe to express themselves fully.
A big part of this “meditation in action” is listening. Often when someone is speaking to us we are only partially listening. Our attention is also on what we think about what they are saying. How it affects us and what we agree or disagree with. We also tend to be crafting what we will say in response. Not to mention the folks that can’t help but check their phone while someone else is talking.
This kind of listening is not really listening. It’s as if we have a filter between ourselves and the other person. That filter is made of you. It’s your preferences, your judgements, your insecurities, your conditioning. To really listen and connect with another person that filter needs to thin out, to stop filtering.
This isn’t to say that the filter of you is all bad! We just need to be able to see the filter, to be awake to it, in order to know when it’s helpful and when it’s not. Once you become aware of it you will begin to be able to use it or not, depending on the situation.
It is a huge gift to others to listen without a filter. To really hear what they are saying, to really see them. Think about a time in your life when you felt heard and seen. It feels amazing, doesn’t it? It’s something that we all deeply crave. A real connection. It also feels good to be on the listening end. It’s refreshing and invigorating to take in someone fully.
When you listen filterless, you are invited to speak in a new way as well. The exchange becomes almost sacred, even if the conversation is about something mundane. You begin to share from a deeper part of yourself, letting go of the need to edit and censor for fear of how you will be perceived. A simple conversation about a movie or restaurant can become alive and rich in a whole new way.
Give this a try during your next conversation. Treat the interaction as a meditation and each time you get caught in the filter come back to listening. The person speaking is your object of focus — particularly the sound of their voice, their words. Don’t be hard on yourself when you inevitably get caught up in your own thinking, just notice that it’s happened and return to listening.
When it’s your turn to speak, don’t be afraid of a little silence. You don’t have to respond immediately. Allow your response to be authentic and maybe even surprising. It can be a wonderful rush to let a conversation takes its own course. Let go of the reins and actually converse.
During the conversation you’ll notice thoughts and perhaps emotions arise. You don’t need to try to stop that from happening. Instead just notice and return to listening or speaking. Be aware of making too much eye contact. A lot of eye contact is good, but too much can be a bit creepy. Staring too long into someone’s eyes during a conversation can make them uncomfortable and shut them down. Save extended eye contact for eye gazing exercises.
This filterless interaction is not meant to be a chance to tell someone what you really think of their new haircut or new boyfriend. Sharing openly and being hurtful are two different things. This is where the filter comes in handy. Be kind and compassionate and don’t mistake sharing relative truths with sharing a deeper truth.
This is something to practice and it will take time. Get comfortable with the process and let go of perfection. Totally forgive yourself when you don’t listen fully, and then try again. By practicing this type of meditation in action, your interactions with lovers, family, friends, and even strangers will become more satisfying and engaged. You get the joy of seeing another person open up and show a deeper part of themselves to you. Keep practicing and opportunities for filterless connections will become more and more available to you.
Read Michael Taft’s article Learning to Listen
Photo Credit: timrb