One of the greatest gifts we can give one another is listening. I always knew listening was important. I just didn’t realize how sacred.
I best back up a bit. I am not a novice in the art of listening. For thirty years my bread and butter in the workplace came from my ability to listen, synthesize, and help focus my clients’ conversations so they were able to strategically move from the world of divergence and reflection to concrete strategies and actions.
As a consultant specializing in workplace conversations where collaboration was desirable and results were required, the expectations were clear. Either I learned how to tune in to my clients and really listen, or I was out of a job.
But the kind of listening I am talking about now is far different, for there are no personal expectations or financial compensations as a result of the effort. Instead, imagine holding something very precious in cupped hands and humbly offering it to another.
A simple yet extraordinary gift that says, “In this space, I am yours, and I vow that I will do every thing in my power to make sure your voice is heard.” That’s what I mean by listening as an act of love.
Genuine listening such as this takes courage. You have to let go of your world of ego needs, feelings of inadequacy, and control and enter into a space that the other person owns entirely. This isn’t about you and your knowledge or experiences, it’s about them. You are in a state of being and allowing, not in offering problem solving directives, unless you are specifically asked to do so.
It is often a place of silence. And that silence can sometimes be uncomfortable for the listener, especially when there are no answers to be had; where no “fixing” is possible, or perhaps even wanted.
Some of my greatest listening lessons came to me when two of my friends and four animals passed away in less than a year. For some reason, I was given the privilege to support them as they prepared to transition to the Other Side.
I would be less than honest if I didn’t tell you that there were moments when I didn’t know if I had the courage, strength, or even time (which I am ashamed to admit) to accompany my friends on their journeys.
I soon discovered that a precarious balancing act was set in motion. To remain in this loving and intimate listening space I had to keep my heart open. But an open heart to love is also an open heart to suffering and sorrow. “Too much, too much,” I would plead to God, as I was bombarded by thoughts of losing these special beings in my life.
Yet in this very state of surrender, when I felt I had nothing left to give, was when I discovered I had everything I needed.
The voice within said, “Be at peace. We’ve got you covered.” And a mantle of grace descended upon me.
As I reflect on these listening experiences, I am filled with gratitude. How could something so difficult, gritty, and draining be so exquisitely beautiful and fulfilling at the same time? I have no answers, other than it seems to be a part of the human experience. As my deceased friend Mary Ann would always say, “It is what it is.”
I now understand that listening as an act of love is a choice. And we don’t have to wait until people or animals are ready to pass over, before offering this special gift we are all so capable of giving.
We can do for each other what those on the Other Side cannot. A steady gaze, a loving touch, an open heart, and a readiness to listen can do absolute wonders. Who in your life has taught you about listening? What have you learned? How can you take that knowledge to support others and truly give the gift of listening as an act of love?