I’ve been noticing, for a long time now, that I have a tendency to experience not being heard. It doesn’t mean that it’s true for whomever is on the listening end, but I have this insecurity that when I’m speaking, the other person isn’t listening. Or when I’m speaking, I’m not being understood. Or when I’m speaking, there isn’t really space or interest for me to speak openly. Now, clearly, this has to do with some wounding. I take responsibility for that and see it as a path to understand myself. And, I see something else arising here: We don’t know deep listening.
Deep listening is not something I was taught. It is something that I’ve learned in the last few years and have started to facilitate. My first introduction to deep listening was at a sharing circle at an ashram in Israel. Every Tuesday afternoon, there would be sharing. Anyone was welcome to join. There would be one facilitator holding the space and we would all gather in a circle, with some kind of talking stick in the center. And after briefly landing in the space, we first went over the rules of the sharing circle. The rules were:
- Confidentiality – Whatever was said in the space stayed in the space. If we wanted to discuss further what someone had shared, we must approach them directly and ask permission to reflect with them.
- No feedback – We were not to offer any commentary, feedback, nor advice to the sharer. We were not permitted to interrupt the sharing or cross-talk in any way.
- Deep listening – As listeners, we were to sit as statues facing the sharer, keeping a neutral face expression, containing any impulse to react. We could, however, speak an “Aho!” of agreement if we identified with what the sharer had shared.
- Sharing from the heart – As the sharer, we were, to the best of our abilities, to share from the heart space. Not to plan what we were going to share; rather, to open our mouth and let whatever it was that wanted to come forth to organically come forth without judgement, without rationalization, without thought.
After we all agreed to these rules, whomever was called to begin would take the talking stick and share. They’d take as long as they needed and then return the stick to the center, at which point someone else would take the stick.
When I first started going to sharing, I realized the nerves that it brought up. I found myself planning what to say, I found myself nervous to take up space, to talk for as long as I’d like, to speak vulnerably. And then, as I got more used to it, I saw that sharing was not about who was listening, it wasn’t in any way about the other people, they were merely holding space for me to be able to openly hear myself, for me to hear what was weighing on my heart. And it was such a relief to just be heard, first and foremost by myself, and secondly to have a container, a ground, that I was safely listened to. I’ve learned since then, that there are other methods of sharing, all rooted in the same intention. In Gestalt group sharing, additional rules are that the sharer only speaks from first person perspective – I, my, me, mine, and that as a deep listener, we remain connected to our own experience, receiving what the sharer shares and staying aware of how the sharing affects ourselves and our bodies.
I find this practice to be highly beneficial, especially in this time of technology and distraction. Recently, I was Facetiming with my partner, and every few minutes when I’d be talking, he’d go to look at his text messages. It drove me nuts! Or more truthfully, it just hurt, because why speak to someone if they are not listening. It feels like a waste of energy then…And this is happening constantly, we’re having conversations, the phone buzzes, and the other person responds to it. How is it that what happens on our phone is more important than what is happening in front of us!? I pose this question and also completely admit that I’ve been that person, too. And I bring this whole conversation up because it is something that needs to be in our awareness. To respect, hold space, for moments of exchange, for real time connection.
Not only does sharing act as a catharsis, as a therapy, as an opportunity for reflection and understanding, but it also invites deep listening, which reminds us of our intricately woven web of interconnectedness. So often, the last person to share would say, “Gosh, I feel like everyone else has said all that I needed to say.” It reminds us that we are all living the same spectrum of emotions, we are all experiencing trials and tribulations of the human experience.
In sharing this, I am reminded of the necessity to practice deep listening when I am in conversation, to be present, use it as a meditation. And I see the importance of calling the other in, asking for attentive attention, setting the space when I am wanting to be heard, and through that practice, inviting others to ask for the same.