Being Fully Present with Each Other
Recently I was thinking about the act of listening to people and some of the ways that I have practiced doing this over the years so that I can be as present as possible with them while I listen. It occurred to me that there are three specific ways I have honed this skill that are slightly different from each other…listening, active listening, and witnessing…and it’s useful to know and decide what a given situation might call for. There is an attitude of non-judgement held for all of them, which is an important part of where to start. Non-judgement for the person you’re listening to as well as for yourself.
Listening: Many of us, even if we’re “good” listeners, can sometimes get distracted by our own thoughts when listening. We might be thinking about what to say in response or be reminded of a similar situation we want to share. Depending on the conversation or the situation, advice and sharing can be useful, maybe even requested and expected. I think what’s a little tricky is that sometimes we get caught up in our own thought processes, thinking too much about what to say that we’re not really being fully present with the person we’re listening to. Even if we’re looking for advice, sometimes just having someone listen to us fully can go a long way in knowing our own heart and mind. Sometimes we just need to talk it through, right? Like, just have a sounding board to get to say things out loud to someone else so we can hear them more clearly ourselves. Our full, present attention can go a long way in helping someone work through a problem or make a decision they’re stuck on. Have you ever had that experience of just being listened to and figuring something out?
Active listening: I think there is a definition of this out in the world, but I’d like to share my personal version of it. I think of active listening as listening with more of an intention to note important things that might be said. Not to judge or analyze, but to let the person know that I am hearing what they’re saying, or even maybe to help them clarify what they’re saying, depending on the situation. It still starts with just listening, but maybe you’re noticing something that you want to ask them about in order for them to process something better. Or maybe you pick up on something that they are totally unaware of. You may or may not decide to point it out to them, but it might show you something about them from a different perspective and perhaps help you to think about them a little better or with a deeper understanding.
Witnessing: When I’m just listening to someone as a witness, my intention is to simply hold space for whatever they are sharing, not judging it, not thinking about it too much, just noticing them and giving them a space to be who they are as fully as they can in that moment. Comments aren’t generally needed, but sometimes sharing what you appreciate about what you see in them can be a loving way to let them know that you see them.
This has got me thinking about how we might apply all of these modes of listening, not just when listening to others, but when listening to ourselves as well. There are those times when we find some silence and stillness just for ourselves and can be present to ourselves fully, maybe for a few minutes, for an hour, maybe longer. Maybe we just need to get quiet and listen. Maybe we need to listen actively and find some internal feedback that can help us move forward in a new way. Or maybe we just need to let ourselves be and witness ourselves exactly as we are, without judgement, with love and acceptance and see what happens.
It has been of the utmost importance in my life to have people who could listen to me in all of these ways so that I could witness myself, go deeper in my self-reflections and self understanding. It’s also gone a long way towards me having the attention to listen to others in these ways and become aware of any places that I might feel “triggered” by someone else, which in itself is a great learning experience and revelation if you’re willing to own it as yours, not theirs.
What are some ways you enjoy listening to others? Are you able to give enough space for someone to be themselves and show that to you? What triggers sometimes get in your way that could be a source of growth for your own journey? Take some time this week to practice listening to someone else in one or all of these ways and notice what it feels like to be fully present, in the here and now, in this moment.
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