When was the last time you listened to the stories of others?
– question put to the sick by a Native American medicine man

In October I spent nine days at an International Intensive Training in nonviolent communication. During those intensive days, we practiced listening to each other and to our own hearts. During our best practice, we listened open-heartedly, striving to understand and empathize with whatever was ailing the person sharing. Even when our practice was less than perfect (speaking for myself, that was most of the time), we often felt profoundly connected with each other and our own hearts. Opening our hearts to receive someone’s pain, familiar even if we had never experienced it, also allowed our hearts to release pain, to receive soothing reassurances, even if the words went unspoken: You are not alone. You are like everyone else. You are lovable, even with or because of your imperfections.

Listening can lead to healing.

 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;
– James 1:19

I used to think I was a good listener. I realize now that I am not as proficient as I’d like to be. I listen reasonably well when I am “practicing.” But when I don’t hold the awareness that I am “practicing listening,” I find myself distracted, my thoughts meandering to and fro, my desire urging me to speak some unhelpful, unempathetic, self-centering words. Looking at our world, I know I am not the only person to struggle with this. Too often, we quake with kneejerk reactions, impulsive outbursts, self-righteous rants. These only create or deepen wounds, our own and those of others.

In practice, I am learning to catch my impulses, to breathe and slow down, offering more space for quiet, for integration of what I am hearing, for compassion to wash over and disintegrate what may start as a ball of judgement or anger or I-can-fix-you. Outside of practice, I sometimes get it right, too. I will keep practicing because I believe these words:

Being heard is so close to being loved that most people can’t tell the difference.
– from Urban Confessional: A Free Listening Movement

I want to offer to others what I’ve been gifted so generously: open-hearted listening.

And as I write today, I have few words to offer, only two invitations:

In this season of Advent, when preparation seems to take the form of frenzy rather than stillness, and through the Christmas season, too often an embodiment of consumerism rather than a celebration of God Embodied, I invite you to give the gift of time…

…time to listen to your own heart, your center, from where you most purely reflect the image of God. Breathe. Focus only on understanding yourself, not judging, analyzing, fixing.  What wisdom speaks quietly from within?

…time to listen to someone else, remembering that they, too, are created in God’s image. Breathe. Focus only on understanding that person, not judging, analyzing, fixing.  Reflect back what you hear them saying. What happens when your only intention is understanding?


Picture by Tuncay Coskun