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Presence in the Silence: The Art of Listening

Presence in the Silence: The Art of Listening

Have you ever been in a conversation sharing something you felt passionate about and felt as if the other person didn’t really hear you or was even in the same conversation? Or, on the flip side, have you walked away from a chat only to realize you were the one who wasn’t very tuned in and genuinely didn’t hear what was being shared?

I have experienced being on both sides.

Sometimes it can feel as if we are on completely different pages as we navigate communication bridges in relationships or even as if we are speaking entirely from different books! The missing ingredient in conversation is often the ability to listen, truly be present, open, and available to hear what the other person is saying.

I saw a funny example of this the other night as my family and I re-watched the movie Notting Hill with Hugh Grant. There’s a scene where a customer comes into Hugh Grant’s travel bookshop and asks him if they have any books by Dickens.

Grant responds, “No, I’m afraid we’re a travel bookshop. We only sell travel books.”

The customer says, “Oh, right,” pausing then says, “How about the new John Grisham thriller?”

Grant, looking irritated says, “Well, no because that’s a novel too, isn’t it?”

The customer says again, “Oh, right.” He looks around, then sighs and asks, “Have you got Winnie the Pooh?”

Grant looks at the man for a few seconds, and then with an exasperated pause calls to his employee, “Martin, your customer.”

Our conversations can feel a lot like this scene! But the good news is that we can get on the same page with each other. We can begin to feel more connected and have conversations where both people walk away feeling seen, heard, acknowledged, and validated. We can get this kind of connection by polishing our ability to really listen.

I believe that listening starts with being able to listen within, with a strong connection and comfort within our inner world. It begins with tuning within.

Our founder, Ernest Holmes, once said in a talk, “Let us individually, then, in the silence of our own contemplation, take time to feel the light and see it. Very frequently, I sit down all alone for two hours and just listen to the silence, and it speaks. I look into the darkness and it turns light, and it is there. There isn’t any question about it.”

As I read that, I considered when the last time was that I really sat for two hours in silence, on my own, with my heart. Perhaps at the spiritual retreat, I did last year? Or in the meditation class, I took? With that thought, I can feel my own meditation chair beckoning. Maybe yours is too? Silence, in its all-pervading constancy, is continually renewing an invitation to us to be still and know as it says in the Bible. The funny thing is we must slow down and listen to hear, or rather, to experience the depth and peace found within it.

By following Ernest’s example, we can build massive listening muscles. You, too, can build those muscles by sitting, breathing in and out through your heart, and focusing your attention on the sensation of your own breath. This ability to be present with yourself to listen mobilizes your compassion and ability to listen to others.

Next time one of your conversations begins to veer offline, take a deep breath, reconnect within your heart, and then turn to the loved one speaking, fully present, ready to acknowledge, ready to validate, but most of all, ready to broadcast the energetic message of your full listening presence which says, “I am here. I see you and I truly hear you.”

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