Do you remember the last time you felt really heard by someone? It doesn't matter who it was. It could've been a family member or the nurse at your last doctor's visit. The conversation might have lasted 5 minutes or an hour. Time doesn't matter in this case.
Now that you've identified this, ask yourself what that person did to make you feel heard? Did they sit a certain way, give you eye contact? Was their phone put away? Did they interrupt you or did they simply listen with subtle body language letting you know that they were still with you?
I'm betting that you didn't feel judged, weren't given unsolicited advice, nor were you cut off while speaking. You felt accepted for who you were and the reality of the situation. You were actively heard by the listener with undivided loving attention.
Active listening is one of the most caring things you can do for someone. There's so many ways to cultivate and practice active listening but the number one way to begin is to develop a practice for yourself.
You might be conjuring images of talking to yourself or replaying a storyline in your head, but I'm talking about listening to your body. Usually, we only listen to our bodies when we're sick or in pain. And even then, we probably tell ourselves to 'push through it'. We live in a world that values the mind and thought above all else. Rewards are given to professionals who work 70-hour weeks, athletes who play despite serious injury, people who push themselves past their breaking points. How many times have we heard the mantra 'mind over matter'? The problem with always doing this is that we develop chronic conditions and sicknesses. We ignore our bodies' own needs, always following a top/head-down approach to living instead of integrating our minds with our bodies. This requires listening to our own bodies, a bottom's-up approach. Really, deep listening is multi-directional, back to front, side to side, and top to bottom. Everything is connected.
One way to begin listening to your body (besides talking to yourself like a mad person - there's always time for that), is to connect with your senses. You can do this anywhere and at anytime.
1. Begin by bringing gentle awareness to your breath, noticing the qualities of your breath without 'fixing' it. Just noticing it, like you're studying an animal in the wild.
2. Next, scan your body from the crown of the head to the tips of your toes. You will probably notice an area that is tighter or louder than others. Bring your attention there. Again, resist the urge to change this.
3. Imagine sending your inhale to that area of the body. Keep returning to the breath as your thoughts come and go. Maybe notice how your breath has shifted since connecting with sensation. Has it deepened, sped up, slowed down? Again, the way your breath may have changed doesn't matter. Your awareness is what matters.
4. Now, silently ask this area of sensation, what it has to tell you. You might think this is woo-woo but stick with me; it doesn't hurt to try. Ask this over and over again until you get an answer. It may be a word or an image or another feeling. It may be nothing. But whatever it is or isn't, watch what happens to your point of focus. Most likely, you will be given some direction, even if that means the pain deepens. Maybe that is your body telling you that need to get outside to help.
What I mostly find is that my experience of strong sensation, diminishes and moves somewhere else, gradually leaving my body. Sometimes, a word will arise in my mind that is some clue as why it's there. But whatever happens, I remain listening to my body just like I would to a child.
As I continue to practice active listening, I find myself making decisions rooted in mind/body collaboration instead of pure intellect. This has deeply enriched my life and made me more comfortable on my own path. Beyond this, I am now able to actively listen more freely with everyone in my life, from the people I love to the cashier at the grocery store. And they in turn, further deepen my daily grind, unknowingly offering little gems of wisdom.
I would love to hear about your own experiences of being heard. Share in the comments below or shoot me a message.