A Lost Art: Listening
Oh, how I struggled to come up with a title for today’s post! And it’s still not right. Listening and anything with ‘listening’ in the title is just not intriguing, sexy, or in any way worthy of you clamoring to click on my article to read it. (At this point I should thank you for reading this far, despite the lame headline! “Thank you.”) And this, coming from someone who holds a strong belief that listening is hugely important, in fact, there’s an art to listening.
Here is a Truth, one that makes listening paramount: We all have a strong desire to be heard.
And if this strong desire to be heard exists within each of us, shouldn’t there be an equal number of listening ears out there to fulfill such a universal desire?
Listening and Mark Nepo
But I still get the sense that many folks would shove listening in the category of BOR-ING and not give it another thought. Just don’t tell that to author, poet, and philosopher Mark Nepo, who did happen to give the topic of listening another thought — like, 258 pages worth of thought in his most recent book entitled, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What Is Sacred.
I was first introduced to Mark Nepo’s work in January of 2011, the day he appeared on Good Morning America with his book, The Book of Awakening, a book soon to be on coffee tables of homes, hospital waiting areas, and cancer centers all across the world. (Nepo’s appearance on Good Morning America followed shortly after Oprah listed his book on her “Ultimate Favorite Things of 2010”.) My mother-in-law called me at home and said I had to turn on the TV and listen to this man. She said he and I “spoke the same language.” Little did any of us know at the time, that six months later, I would be diagnosed with cancer. For six straight months I experienced the gift of reading Nepo’s exquisite words on life, on suffering, on the resilience that comes from such suffering, and on his own cancer journey, completely unaware that my journey through cancer was on the horizon.
During that time, I had fallen in love with Nepo’s writing style. His ability to write a poem, more like a short essay, using very few words, yet convey such depth. Depth that would present itself in a completely different angle — and with meaning that spoke to me in a way that continued to follow me around for days, sometimes as whispers begging contemplation, other times as cymbals, ringing lessons in my ears I was too stubborn to acknowledge before.
It was not uncommon for me to jot down comments and questions in the margins of my copy of The Book of Awakening —questions I assumed I would reflect back on years later, but never have the opportunity to ask Nepo directly. Until December 6, 2012. As I sat in my north Dallas office, with my eight-year old yellow Lab at my feet, and Mr. Nepo sat in his southwest Michigan office, with his 12-year old yellow Lab at his.
Preparing For An Interview on Listening
For nearly two years I had read Nepo’s work, writing about him here on my blog more than any other author, something like nine or ten times. And now I was about to interview him. But I had been asked to interview him on his book on listening, not any of his other work. At this point, you might be thinking the same thing I was:
An essay or two about listening, some musings from a very talented writer could be insightful, but an entire book? However, once I started reading Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, I found it difficult to put down. Mark Nepo presents listening in a much broader context than you might suspect. He discusses how listening leads to wakefulness. To Oneness. To being open to life. How listening is the doorway to everything that matters — between what we hold dear and what we’re afraid to lose. “Ultimately,” Nepo says, “listening leads to peace. Listening is the first step to peace, both inner peace and the compassion that connects people.”
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing parts of that interview that were not included in the book review. I’ll share more intimate conversations we had about what it means to listen with your heart and mind, and conversely, what Nepo calls, growing “heart-deaf” and “mind-deaf.” How discovering he was losing his hearing while writing a book about listening was irony at its best. How there is much to be heard in silence. And of course, I had to ask him what role Trust plays in all of this. You’re not going to want to miss it!
So… who cares about listening? I care. As boring as the topic of listening may sound on the surface, it has the reach of a never-ending well filled with refreshing, potent, spring water found in the middle of a desert. The type of life saving and life sustaining water that not only individuals need, but that relationships also need in order to thrive. Consider this: how long would you tolerate a friend who never listened to you? The spouse who didn’t listen to you? About as long as you’d walk around in the desert with nothing to drink. Remember, we desire to be heard. And in order to be heard, there needs to be someone willing to listen.
Keeping that in mind, I’ll leave you with a few lines from Nepo’s book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen:
“To stay in relationship is a central challenge of our time.”
“As a vulnerable human being, I still want to be seen and heard and understood for who I am. When bestowed without agenda, these are the gifts of love.”
“It still hurts to be ignored, especially if I’ve shown myself completely. It still feels thwarting to be misunderstood, especially if I’ve spoken my heart as plainly as I know how. But the truth doesn’t need to be explained to be true.”
“Without a felt sense of this connection to the web of life, the need to be seen and heard can rule us, overwhelm us, and even devastate us.”
“Listening is being present enough to hear the One in the many and the many in the One.”
I look forward to continuing to share insights and topics discussed with author Mark Nepo with you. If you haven’t already done so, please subscribe so you won’t miss a one! Thank you! Love, Leslie