I just finished my first year at the Encounter Course at the London Centre of Spiritual Direction. This is a refection on one of the main lessons I am taking away from this year.
It has been such an exciting journey to discover how powerful listening really is. How listening in itself is just enough. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone. It is in the being listened to that people are changed.
It is something so simple, so straightforward; anyone can offer it, but yet so powerful and so life changing. Someone said, ‘being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they are virtually indistinguishable’ (D. Augsberger).
I have learnt that this is not just about me becoming the most skilled listener with the best techniques at hand. No, it is not even really about me being good at listening, but about me trusting in the presence of God in the act of listening. And holding the other in that presence…
A Long Loving Look
There is this concept of having a ‘long loving look at the real…’. We are there not to judge or criticise someone’s feelings, but to accept and hold them. All this takes place in the midst of real and messy life – where God is available at the end of our self-sufficiency.
My favourite quote, which illustrates all this beautifully, says: ‘The gift of being a good listener, a gift which requires constant practice, is perhaps the most healing gift anyone can possess, for it allows the other to be; enfolds them in a safe place; does not judge or advice them; accepts them as they are without desiring to change them; and communicates support at a level deeper than words.’ (Gerard Hughes)
I realise more and more how all people need opportunities to share what is on their heart without holding back. Yes, it takes courage to open up, but the process is made so much easier if you know that whatever you are sharing is in safe hands. To know that whoever is listening does this without judgement; from a place of love and acceptance.
Painful Honesty and Grace
I was referring to listening as being something so easy and straightforward. Yes it is, but it also isn’t. It is also one of the hardest things to master. This is where my own judgement and criticising comes in, and also my insecurities.
I have learnt that if I want to make an impact on other peoples lives, rather than trying to work on them, I should continue to work on myself. On my ability to listen to God, to myself, to others. To make listening my prime quality. This also includes: to be present to the current moment, to any situation that offers itself and be open to what comes up inside of it.
It requires honesty. Painful honesty, because we are not always willing to be really open to what is inside. I have certainly learnt about myself that I am not always ready to listen to what is really there. Honesty has to be accompanied by grace, lots of grace. I can only listen to others without judgment, if I know I am forgiven and accepted by God and am able to forgive and be gracious to myself.
Perceiving without Judgement
All this has changed the way in which I interact with people. I would describe myself as a perceptive person. I pick up things about people and can get to the heart of a situation quite quickly. However, even though my intuition is most of the time pretty spot on, it has often been followed by some sort of judgement. I would come to certain conclusions from whatever I perceived based on my own experience and notion of what is right and wrong.
Learning about the power of listening has taken the judgement out of my ‘perceiving’. At least, I am getting better. I have really had to learn to ‘take out’ myself and stay open to the other. It all became so much easier when I was made aware of the power of listening. No longer there was the need for me to come with solutions, as listening in itself brings healing.
I just have to work at staying present. It is a decision I have to take time and time again. To create this space for the other to fully be.