Listening seems like a natural skill, yet it requires attention and practice to stay present and truly hear what another person is communicating. The mind tends to wander, and our internal narratives and busy thoughts fragment our attention and sap our ability to stay focused in the moment. Our emotions can also interfere with our ability to listen. For instance, the other day my son was telling me about his plans to backpack through India for three months. He spoke about his intention to immerse himself in a new culture before embarking upon the next steps in his professional life. But somehow my mind heard him say something totally different – that he wants to put off getting a job for as long as possible. But as my motherly instinct kicked into play, our conversation veered into a tense exchange about responsibility. My emotions were heightened and I started to lose my positive energy. I realized that the conscious act of listening involves being aware of my inner emotional landscape. In this case, the tightening I felt in my chest, decreasing eye contact and physical gestures (a hug would have been nice). Why all the friction? I think it was because my son is leaving home (again!), my thoughts were racing with how to handle the transition. The result was that I did not truly hear him.
Listening Requires Focus
Too often, when someone is talking, we are just waiting for them to finish their thought so we can add in our opinion. As a result, we may miss the core message. By bringing awareness to the way we listen, we are able to stay open to the speaker’s perspective and recognize judgments as they arise. The intent of listening mindfully is to pay attention to the speaker without interruption, without getting defensive, and without a need to always be right or make a point. To get the whole picture, we need to engage all of our senses and concentrate on the personal gestures and the messages that are being communicated.
Summer marks a welcomed change of pace. It offers opportunities to listen mindfully and redefine how we engage with the people around us. There is much to be learned from our children and teens as they leave the school routines behind. We can embrace their new-found freedom, choose to place value on their perspectives, listen to their wisdom and enjoy their company. In turn we navigate past old roadblocks, establish new listening habits and create memorable connections to cherish.
Playlist for Summer Listening
Learn more at www.mindfulnesswithoutborders.org.