Deep listening is a precious gift to self and others.

“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

The most loving and compassionate thing you can do for others is listen with presence. Sounds easy, right? Often the simple things are the most difficult and I am reminded daily of the inner wisdom, strength, and creativity that lives within each person as I sit with my psychotherapy clients and meditation students.  Being heard creates a sense of safety and caring that can allow inner wisdom to surface. However, compassionate listening can be difficult when another is in pain because a strong stirring of empathic resonance draws up the urge to fix or alleviate the other persons suffering. Many years ago I was blessed to “hear” when I was actively listening to Tara Brach in a New York City auditorium with thousands of people. She shared the wisdom I needed to know at an important time in my life – when I was raising small children. “PRESENCE” she said, a way of being completely with another person, in the moment, without judgment or fixing, and taking in their experience to deeply understand and “SEE” them is the most important parenting skill (relationship skill) we need.

Being PRESENT is an extreme challenge for many people, especially these days. Some of us are working from home while homeschooling children, or perhaps experiencing the opposite, a sense of complete isolation. Ordinary daily life with children, work, relationships and household responsibilities is enough, but now we have the additional stressors of possible illness, mental health issues, financial struggles, caring for elderly parents and social isolation. Fortunately, this practice does not require or demand one to listen with PRESENCE all the time, but rather sometimes…sometimes is good enough to help another person feel what they most need to feel. When I say feel, I really mean FEEL. It is not an intellectual thing where you accurately regurgitate what the other person said to demonstrate you are listening, but rather they can see and sense you are totally with them by your nonverbal body language. PRESENCE is a skill we can develop and as a result, your relationships will blossom.

When someone is asking for your attention, here are a few tips to cultivate the practice of presence:

  1. Slow down. Create the space to become aware of other’s needs.
  2. Take a few deep breaths before you engage in conversation to interrupt your activity in the mind.
  3. Assess the situation: Read body language to determine if it this is an urgent request:
  • If it seems like an urgent request or you have time: drop what you are doing (not literally) and direct all your attention to the other person.
  • If it does not seem like an urgent request, or you do not have time, explain that your are unable to give your full attention and communicate when you can offer it. Honor your commitment to get back and listen, as this builds trust and, most importantly for children, will foster the ability to tolerate waiting.

Try to practice this skill on a daily basis. Committing that at dinnertime, bedtime, or during some other routine you will turn your off your phone or TV and simply listen, see, and BE WITH your loved one.

You can practice with yourself too…it is called Vipassana, or mindfulness meditation, and as you cultivate inner listening it will promote greater PRESENCE.