The Gift of Deep Listening

Kay Lindahl, an author and founder of The Listening Center, writes of the inherently sacred nature of reflective listening: 

Perhaps one of the most precious and powerful gifts we can give another person is to really listen to them, to listen with quiet, fascinated attention, with our whole being, fully present. This sounds simple, but if we are honest with ourselves, we do not often listen to each other so completely.  

Listening is a creative force. Something quite wonderful occurs when we are listened to fully. We expand, ideas come to life and grow, we remember who we are. Some speak of this force as a creative fountain within us that springs forth; others call it the inner spirit, intelligence, true self. Whatever this force is called, it shrivels up when we are not listened to and it thrives when we are. 

The way we listen can actually allow the other person to bring forth what is true and alive to them. Sometimes we have to do a lot of listening before the fountain is replenished. . . . Patience is required to listen to such a person long enough for them to get to their center point of tranquility and peace. The results of such listening are extraordinary. Some would call them miracles. 

Listening well takes time, skill, and a readiness to slow down, to let go of expectations, judgments, boredom, self-assertiveness, defensiveness. I’ve noticed that when people experience the depth of being listened to like this, they also begin to listen to others in the same way. 

Lindahl believes that the skills for deep listening share the same foundation as contemplative practice: 

Over the years I have discovered that there is a basic context that nurtures and develops the practice of listening as a sacred art. Three qualities that are essential to this deep listening context are silence, reflection, and presence. 

• Silence creates the space for listening to God. It provides time to explore our relationship to Source. The practice of being in this silence nurtures our capacity to listen to others. 

• Reflection gives us access to listening for our inner voice. The practice of taking a few breaths before responding to a situation, question, or comment gives time for your true wisdom to reveal itself. It’s a slowing down, waiting, practicing patience. 

• Presence is the awareness of listening to another, of connecting at the heart level. The practice of taking a mundane, ordinary activity and giving it your full attention, for example, washing your hands or brushing your teeth, trains your concentration and your ability to be in the present moment with another. . . . 

Heart communication happens when we slow down, when we quiet down, look, and listen. Stop to take a breath. Become fully present with the person we’re with. Listen with all of our being. At this point, communication can occur without words. Being present is a gift that fills our hearts and spirits. We are
in communion.

Kay Lindahl, The Sacred Art of Listening: Forty Reflections for Cultivating a Spiritual Practice (Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2002), 11, 12, 16, 24.

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