The Art of Listening

What does the word 'listening' mean to you? We have the ability to listen and hear so many different things throughout our day that sometimes we take this beautiful sense for granted. We can listen to the sounds around us, we can hear our own bodies and listen to them internally, and we can listen to the people around us, and to those that we love. Take some extra time today and exercise your auditory range.

Start with a familiar action. Wherever you are right now, take a moment and listen to the sounds around you. Perhaps there is coffee being poured, perhaps birds chirping, planes passing overhead, wind through the trees. Maybe there are voices talking around you, cars driving by, mechanical engines humming. For a few seconds, close your eyes and listen.

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Taking the time to focus only on the sounds around us brings us into the present moment and allows the mental chatter in our minds to quiet down. Notice how you feel after taking the time to listen. Make no judgements about what you've heard, just allow these sounds to be.

Next, focus on the sounds your own body makes. Again, release judgements. Close your eyes and listen to your breath. Inhale. Exhale. Notice the rustle of your clothing, the beating of your heart, the way your shoes land on the pavement, the brush of your hands against an object. For a few moments, listen to your own sounds.

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Bringing our attention inward to the self helps us to draw mind and body together. It also makes us hyper-aware of our physical bodies, which in the rush of our daily routine can easily be overlooked or forgotten. After focusing on the sounds that our body makes, it's easy to begin to actually listen to what our body may be trying to tell us. 

Always listen to your body. I use this phrase frequently in my yoga classes. Take a moment now to assess yourself. Are you feeling sore, over-tired, tense or stressed? Is your mind racing with thoughts? What are these thoughts? Are you thinking about the past or the future, yesterday or tomorrow? Your body is very good at telling you when you need to slow down, relax, and let go. Pay attention and make sure you are listening to it.

The last exercise in the art of listening is arguably the most important: listening to the people who share their voices with us. In today's world there are so many distractions from giving your full attention to someone who is talking to you. Phones, computers, TV; if we are giving half of our attention to something online and half of it to the person next to us talking about their day, we aren't really listening.

Everyone is guilty of being a bad listener at one point or another. It's important to recognize this, and take steps to become better. Notice if you interrupt people in the middle of a sentence. I'm definitely guilty of this one. Notice if you aren't looking at the person who is talking to you. If you're on your phone, or another device, or watching TV, you're not actively listening. Changing the subject often to talk about oneself, talking over others, or ignoring people when they're talking are all examples of bad listening skills.

Actively listening to another person is easy to do, and is a great way to show support and love. We as humans need to talk to each other; about our problems, our days, our emotions, our hopes and dreams. Talking can help us to solve these problems, make decisions, or just organize our thoughts. When we talk to our loved ones we crave empathy, a listening ear, and a voice of positivity and non-judgement.

Active listening means putting down the phone, shutting your laptop, looking into the other person's eyes and letting all of their words fill up our minds. It means letting go of the need to respond, or give advice, or tell an opinion. When I'm really engaged in listening I nod my head, I try to understand where the person is coming from, and I encourage them to talk more by asking questions about the subject and probing them to explore further. When I'm the one talking about something important, I know it feels so good to have another person focused on my words and to know that they are taking the time to hear what I have to say.

Listening can embody so many different forms whether it's focusing on the sounds around you, tuning into your body, or listening to a friend in need. Each one of these parts can benefit us in different situations depending on what we need in that moment. I truly believe listening is one of the most important techniques we can implement throughout our day to improve our own lives, and the daily lives of those around us as well.

So, what does the word 'listening' mean to you?