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The Art of Listening

I have mentioned in several posts recently that I am enrolled into a program called Audire.  This is a three year program which will give me certification as a spiritual director.  In the context of the Audire program, spiritual direction is intended as a “being a companion” to someone as they explore where they are at in their relationship to whatever God they believe in.  Or, if the person does not yet believe in God, walking with them as they explore what this may mean for them and allow them a safe place to explore the possibility of a spiritual life.

One of the skills that is considered to be of prime importance in this training is the art of listening.  As I worked and trained with the CREDO retreat process in the US Navy between the years of 1984 to 2003, the skill of listening was also considered to be the most important skill that we needed to cultivate. Most of the yearly training weekends that I spent with CREDO were focused on activities that helped us to hone this particular skill.

On my refrigerator door at home I have a quotation held in place with a magnet that says something like: “The greatest gift we can offer another is the gift of rapt attention.”  I’m away from home right now so cannot verify the exact wording nor do I remember the author of the quotation.  Just a few days ago, in one of my morning reflections, I read the following quotation by Dr. Joyce Brothers: “Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.”

Going back to the first quotation, I checked out the dictionary meaning of the word “rapt”.  This is what I found:

– completely engrossed: involved in, fascinated by, or concentrating on something to the exclusion of everything else.

– deeply engrossed or absorbed

– blissfully happy: showing or suggesting deep emotions

– transported with emotion

I think the first two definitions are probably the most significant with regards the skill of listening to another, although showing that I am “blissfully happy” or “transported with emotion” as I listen to another in a totally focused way is not so bad either!  It would certainly get across the message to them that I am paying complete attention to them and what they are saying.

Listening is just one component of the whole skill of good communication.  It is said that when we are communicating with another person several messages are being given and received:

– the message of the words that we are actually saying

– the message that we think we are conveying with the words that we are saying

– the message that the other person hears from the words that we are saying

– the message that the other person then “decodes” from the words that we are saying

– the message that the other person sends back to us in response to the words we are saying

– the message that the other person thinks he has conveyed with the words he has said

– the message that we hear in the words from the other person

– the message that we think we understood (decoded) from the words the other person said.

There may be a few more variables going on at the time which could depend on the parties’ humor, body language, level of distraction, and others!!  Is it any wonder that “bad communication” is probably the single most contributing factor to broken relations on the intimate level and wars on the international level?

So, in order to be a “good” listener I need to come to the table in a very specific way in order to offer that “rapt attention” to the other person.  Here are some of the tools that I have learned, and continue to hear impressed, in order to be a good listener.

– Look directly at the speaker

– make sure body posture is open and inviting

– clear the mind of other thoughts

– avoid external distractions

– suspend internal judgment

– don’t be mentally preparing a response

– acknowledge that you are hearing by nodding the head or saying “uh huh” from time to time

When the other person stops speaking:

– wait for a few moments and then check with them that they have said all they wanted/needed to say for the moment

– if you are confused about something they said, ask for clarification

– reflect back, summarize what they have said to show them that you have truly been listening

– only then offer honest feedback, being respectful of the other and stating clearly that these are your thoughts and/or feelings in response to what you have
  heard

As can be seen,  it is not easy to be a “rapt listener” but with a little thought and some willingness to get out of self, we can become the skillful listener that is needed in true communication with another.

Musings: The Tapestry of Life

The other day I was reading a small reflection about how we are all part of the tapestry of life.  The reflection said that we are all unique threads in the great tapestry of life, each with our own subtle texture and color.  It lead to to think about my own life and to see how that is a unique tapestry of its own. The events that have taken place, the people that have crossed my path, and my response or reaction to both of these, have all contributed to the rich cloth that has been woven. 

I also think of my life as representative of the seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter.  Some of the threads are black and grey and dark brown and these form the winter scenes.  Others are bright yellow and light green and various hews of light blue creating renewal of life spring scenes.  Bright gold, vivid red and brilliant greens and blues form the summer, and then there are the gorgeous burnt tones of autumn – orange, ochre yellows, rich rusty browns and deep reds and purples.

As I thought more about this particular view of life I had a sudden memory of “photo tapestries”.  This type of art form came onto the scene maybe ten or fifteen years ago.  The artist would take thousands of photos of human faces.  Then he or she would render them as miniature pictures and lay them out to create one large unique image of a specific face, usually someone famous such as the Mona Lisa.

And so I thought of God as the artist creating each of us and then allowing us to co-create our life tapestry/photo through our behavior choices and responses to life events.  He would then take each completed photo and lay it out with all the others to form a complete photo-tapestry of the whole world from start to finish.

Just imagine, we are each a tiny, unique, infinitesimal yet very important part of the whole. We are each a wonderful creation of God with possibilities and opportunities to create a grand self portrait.  Then he, the Grand Master Artist, gets to take our individual  portraits – our works of art – to blend them together to create his work of art – the human history of the world.

As I thought this all through it made me want to make the rest of my life as beautiful and as interesting as possible. I want my life to represent joy and love and laughter.  I know I have created many winter scenes, but I have also managed to weave in to my own personal tapestry/life portrait much of spring and summer and the glorious tones of autumn.

Then, when it is time, I will lay my gift at the feet of the Master.  Only he knows where my creative work shall be placed in the bigger scheme of things.  Only he knows the unique offering that I have made to the whole.  Only he knows and can appreciate the bigger picture.  And when the time is right I am sure he will allow me to share that too.   

Shared Wisdom: More Quotations

I always enjoy sharing some of my favorite quotations.  They are usually words that have helped me through a situation or two.  Sometimes they have presented themselves as words of comfort and encouragement, sometimes as words of inspiration.  Frequently they have improved my understanding of a particular set of circumstances.  More often that not they have been “light bulb” words; words that have given me that “ah-ha” moment. 

No matter what the moment may have been, these words have been important enough to me to have caused me to write them down for future reference.  I hope you may find some gems of wisdom among the following quotations that will enlighten your heart and your day.

  • You give but little when you give of your possessions.  It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.       (Kahlil Gibran)
  • Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.    (Jesus Christ)
  • Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.       (Thich Nhat Hanh)
  • Faith is a desperate dive out of the sinking boat of human effort and a prayer that God will be there to pull us out of the water.     (Max Lucado)
  • Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.  (American Indian Proverb)
  • As long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might.      (Marian Anderson)
  • If you love yourself, you love everybody else as you do yourself.  As long as you love another person less than you love yourself, you will not really succeed in loving yourself, but if you love all alike, including yourself, you will love them as one person and that person is both God and man.  Thus he is a great and righteous person who, loving himself, loves all others equally.     (Meister Eckhart)
  • Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself.    (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
  • Encouragement is awesome.  It has the capacity .. to actually change the course of another human being’s day, week, or life.    (Charles Swindoll)
  • I have found that when I am willing to trust and follow my energy it leads me into relationships with people from whom I have the most to learn……. I don’t need to enter or stay in a relationship that is not good for me, but if I choose to leave I can still acknowledge the gift and the teaching I received.      (Shakti Gawain)
  • One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.      (Goethe)
  • Death seems so wrong, dear Lord
    Couldn’t You have remedied it?
    Have you forgotten, dear child?
    There is Easter!!
            (Ruth Harms Calkin)
  • The uncertainties of the present always give way to the enchanted possibilities of the future.   (Gelsey Kirkland)
  • If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.    (Mother Teresa)
  • Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about?  It just makes me feel glad to be alive – it’s such an interesting world.  It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything.     (Lucy Maud Montgomery)

And one final quotation to carry with you through the day, which also links with the posting I did yesterday Self Nurturing- Program Yourself Positive.

  • Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.    (William James)

Have a wonderful and blessed day!

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