Deep Listening

On Saturday morning, I received the following Facebook message:

Good morning, Angela. I owe you an apology. I was pretty wound up when I arrived at your studio and I went on and on and on and on . . . you never got a word in edgewise. I’m feeling a little self-conscious about it this morning and wanted to say “I’m sorry.” Sometimes I just need to remember to reel myself in! lol (and then other times – remind myself to open up! lol) . . . . thank you for your patience with me and just being your wonderful “you.”

My response was simply this:

“No worries at all. You provided me with an opportunity to practice my deep listening skills.”

She thought that was funny, but I wasn’t being facetious. I was totally sincere. It’s a skill I’m working on, a “growing edge.” I was introduced to it in my health coach training, and it’s changing the way I show up in the world.

This was one of three opportunities I had to practice this skill this past weekend. The second occurred that same night when I was able to sit with someone I talk to daily, usually in a rushed, hurried, distracted way. But Friday, she came into the studio and we sat face to face on the floor with no cell phones or other distractions and she looked me in the eye and told me what was going on in her life. It was such a different experience for us, that I was the one who felt compelled to send a message about it later to tell her how much I enjoyed it.

The third opportunity was quite deliberate. In my coaching group, we practiced something called “circling.” In circling, each person has an opportunity to speak for a set amount of time (we chose 10 minutes, which is rather on the short end for this type of exercise, although when you’re speaking, it seems like a very long time). While the speaker is speaking, the other members of the circle maintain open body language and focused attention on what they are hearing. Listeners pay full attention to the sound of the words and the body language the speaker exhibits while abandoning habits such as planning their next statement or interrupting the speaker. It is active rather than reactive listening.

Circling encourages insight for everyone involved, and it’s a powerful experience for several reasons. First and foremost, we’re not used to being heard. Quite often, a speaker will start to cry before she utters a single word. The tears are as much a response of gratitude for the opportunity to be truly heard, and fully supported by the group, as they are a response to the subject matter.

Deep Listening is a way of hearing in which we are fully present with what is happening in the moment without trying to control it or judge it. We let go of our inner clamoring and our usual assumptions and listen with respect for precisely what is being said, and what is not being said. Effective listening requires a contemplative mind: open, fresh, alert, attentive, calm, and receptive. And it can be cultivated through instruction and practice.

The beautiful thing about deep listening is that we don’t have to be listening to another person in order to practice it. We can practice it with ourselves, and yoga provides the perfect opportunity to do just that. Each time we step onto the mat, we have an opportunity to listen deeply. As we move through a yoga practice, each pose is an invitation to be fully present with what is happening, to be in the moment. Vinyasa teaches us to be open, fresh and alert. Slower practices, like yin and restorative, require more attention, calmness, and receptivity. Yoga is indeed an exercise in active listening.

Practiced enough, we naturally take this ability that we’ve cultivated on the mat out into the world with us. Deep listening becomes our “off the mat” yoga. And other people notice. It feels different to talk to someone who is fully present, someone who isn’t formulating a response or just waiting for his or her turn to speak.

Margaret J. Wheatley says, “Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”

This week, I invite you to take some time on your mat to sit and listen. The teachers at MSY are here to help you. You know where to find us.