A Listening Life



I have a lot of passionate thoughts and practices around listening.  I used to do it professionally, as a hospice chaplain.  Before and since that, I (do my best to) offer it in my relationships… not just with adults, but with children, animals, and all of Nature.  (You should hear the wise things trees have to say!  All those years they’ve been standing and witnessing everything around them.  I dare you to sit beneath/beside one, and ask It what It has to share with you.  My first tree-talk changed me forever.)

I am so enamored with my listening lifestyle, that I’m a member of the  International Listening Association just so I can be in community with others who are as wild about listening as I am.  And there are other organizations, too, that see listening as a sacred art and spiritual practice.  They’re in my family, also.

What’s your opinion about listening?

I’m doing initial research for a personal project (I promise to tell you all about it as it takes more shape) and I could really benefit from hearing your thoughts and opinions about listening, specifically:

  • How do you define a “good listener”?  What do they do?  What are their traits?
  • How often do you have the chance to be with a good listener?
  • On a scale of 1-10, and just using your gut as a guide, how do you rate your listening skills?
  • What do you think about this essay by Brenda Ueland?

Your time is precious.  So if you can answer even one of these questions in the comments below, I’d be so grateful.


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13 Responses to “A Listening Life”

  1. Sonia Connolly Says:

    I loved Brenda Ueland’s essay. Thanks for linking to it!

    Overall it rang true for me, although I noticed one point of resistance. She says that if you listen long enough, the other person will turn around and want to listen. In my experience, some people are not so well-intentioned, and this doesn’t always work.

    After moving away from my previous home, I went back to visit and saw many friends. They all (except one) spoke without pause, as if they’d had no one to talk to when I left. With the one exception, none made time to hear about my experiences. It gave me an interesting window on why my life had felt so hollow there.

    I rarely get to be with good listeners, and I value it very much.

    Good luck with your project! I’ll be interested to see it unfold.

    Sonia’s latest article Grieving Neglectful Mothering

    • Erika Harris Says:

      Hi Sonia. I’m glad you liked Ueland’s essay. It’s one of my long-time favorites. I agree with you, though, that generous listening is often not reciprocated. Despite the fact that it seems to be universally enjoyed. One-sidedness. Ick.

      How interesting about your hometown friends. It’s possible that when you left, they really didn’t have anyone else who could fill the listening void like you did. I bet you’re missed greatly! And I hope YOU get the pleasure of being fully heard, too.

      In the coming year, I’m looking forward to raising more awareness about depth-listening. It has such transformative power. I think it’s a vital skill that should be taught like CPR!

      • Sonia Connolly Says:

        Hi, Erika. I noticed I really felt heard by your reply. Thank you! :-)

        The phrases “generous listening” and “depth-listening” resonate for me. I’m realizing that it’s a big component of what I do as a bodyworker and trauma healer – listening to my clients’ words, their bodies, their injured spirits.

        Agreed that teaching depth-listening would provide a lot of valuable emergency interventions!

      • LifeBlazing Says:

        Sonia, the multi-dimensional listening you describe here is so beautiful. Plunging deep beneath what’s spoken… making honorable space for the ineffable. That is healing, indeed. Your clients are so blessed to have you and your fearless work.

  2. Lisa Says:

    I’ve been thinking about this topic this weekend, especially since it hits a raw nerve with me. I hope my answers to your questions help with your research.
    • How do you define a “good listener”? What do they do? What are their traits?
    Hmm, good question — a good listener is totally focused on what you say and don’t say (body language, tone, etc.), doesn’t judge one way or the other, and keeps his/her thoughts and feelings about what the speaker is saying to him/herself.
    • How often do you have the chance to be with a good listener?
    Not too often. I grew up with a parent who claimed to want to know how I felt about things, then proceeded to tell me how I ought to feel and think. Also, most people tend to be caught up in their own life dramas and want to talk about those things. However, when they ask how I am, their eyes glaze over if I actually say more than, “Fine.” When I have the chance to be with a good listener, yes, I do have the tendency to vent, but I hope I remember to return the favor ;)
    • On a scale of 1-10, and just using your gut as a guide, how do you rate your listening skills?
    Probably about 5 or 6; it depends on my own life dramas, stress level, and how comfortable I am with the person. A little bit of some people goes a long, long way. Also, I can only take so much of other people’s stuff because people’s words and especially their emotions affect me strongly. It’s even worse when the words don’t match the emotions because they’re not being honest with themselves or with me.
    • What do you think about this essay by Brenda Ueland?
    I think it’s great that she figured out how to listen more effectively, but as Sonia said, most people really don’t return the favor. All I can control is how I listen, not how other people listen. There’s no sense in staying frustrated all the time about other people’s inability or unwillingness to listen.

    • Sonia Connolly Says:

      “All I can control is how I listen, not how other people listen. There’s no sense in staying frustrated all the time about other people’s inability or unwillingness to listen.”

      True words! I had to work really hard on that one for a long time. Part of what helped me with that was the commitment to listening better to myself.

      • Lisa Says:

        That’s still a work in progress, both with listening to myself and with not reacting to other people’s inability/unwillingness to listen :)

    • LifeBlazing Says:

      Lisa, thank you so much for taking the time to answer so thoroughly. You rock! And your answers are very helpful to me.

      I find that people use the question “How are you?” as a (poor) substitute for “Hello.” Most times, a genuine answer isn’t really expected. And if one is given, as you’ve pointed out, it’s often met with eye-glaze. That’s a social convention I could do without!

      True listening is an area where I really want to live into Gandhi’s challenge to “be the change I want to see.”

  3. Hans Henrik Øhlers Says:

    Hi Erika
    I have a lot to share around listening… but maybe not in a sense that you propose i.e being emphatic and present within a relationship.
    I have had a lot of trouble being ultra-sensitive , without even knowing what it was !
    I have sensed peoples vibes and energy in any and all situations, and now that I know what is going on, I can even tune in on people who I havent even met, and get a “feel” on them, and what they are dealing with energetically.
    So…. I have been working on developing other skills… like discerning what is their vibe… and what is mine… I didnt get this in my youth..hell i didnt get this in my adulthood… I actually only really got it some 10 years ago, and Im still improving on that.
    so.. once the pain and suffering is put in the right perspective, I am more free to actually EXPERIENCE the vibe, and from that point on, the conversation is so much more fun and creative. If people doesnt want to let go of their woriies together with me, its ok. But in that sense I wouldnt call my self a good listener, I have had too much of that my whole life, and I just wont put myself in other peoples buckets anymore, if it doesnt feel good and loving.
    so..so much on relationships…
    I have something I find way more interesting and fun to share with you on LISTENING:
    alchemical listening… or SOURCE listening…
    its something I have never heard of or read in any book, but I discovered and experimented with some many years ago.
    I was deeply engaged in observing a sewer-grid in the street (dont ask me why!)… and then it occurred to me to LISTEN to the lines in the grid… wow, my mind went all numb..and a whole new experience of presence opened up to me… and then… I was listening to the SPACE BETWEEN the grid… to the nothingness… WOOOOOW! It all came to life!…
    I later experimented (in a song-workshop I held ..I do Overtone-singing) with singing to the SPACE in the room… and then LISTEN to the space… and THAT was AWESOME!! SPACE is alive and well… it is so full of humor and spark, and it sings wonderfully, in an unfathomable way…

    THIS is also one of my secrets, this is what I do when I shape and sculpt… I LISTEN and sense the shape in the space, and the dance there is in between objects and walls… its nothing complicated, its just to open up and give your mind that impossible task, to make it shut up with its keen ability to categorize alland everything you sense and experince… :-) Ok ..are you with me? :-)
    thanks a lot for letting me share this with you guys, I hope this will blow your minds off and have fun playing with this.

    By the way: I am in the process of sourcing and developing a multi-user blogforum, where we can all share theese nutty experinces we get from a SOURCE-BEING presence. Ill let you know when it is ready :-)

    HAns Henrik

    • LifeBlazing Says:

      Hi Hans. You’ve given so much to dance with. Thank you for that!

      Relational listening as bucket-sitting. What a drag. And a gross undervaluing of such an exquisite gift as lavish listening (or alchemical/source listening). I agree with you completely. We are celestial. Not sponges. And as long as we know and love the distinction, the surrounding world has to comply.

      Relational listening as honoring sewer-grid-lines. And sculpture. What a rush. To hear space. To sense what wants to be… and, conversely, what wants to yield itself into a contour or dip… matter surrendering herself for the beauty of contrast, dimension and depth (like the genius I saw at “Dome,” “Snail,” and “Slope”. Mhmmm. I get that, friend. The swooshes and curves spoke themselves into existence! Because you heard them! Oh, the joys of heightened sensitivity.

      Yes, by ALL MEANS, please do let me know as soon as that multi-user blogforum is up and running. It’ll be sublime to go there and play.

      Love & Passion… Boomerang!

  4. Hans Henrik Øhlers Says:

    hear hear, ive got another (rather large, i admit :-))thing to share. I just read the article from Brenda Ueland, and I sense her patience and dedication in BEING sensitive.
    I had a wonderfull talk with my girlfrind just recently. She is very nice to be around, she makes everything flourish around her, and It took me a while to realize how she did that. She says that she SENSES everything in such a wonderfull way, that she just really really enjoy everything she smells, touches, hears etc. and offcourse she is radical with the unpleasent stuff, like me frying fish without opening the windows.. Thats a big NO NO around here…
    anyways.. I , on the other hand, is rather active all the time, punchy, energetic, have millions of ideas and projects in my head… and I have many things to say about that , too :-)
    but still, I am also sensitive, and rather feminine in some way, and she can be quite masquline and vigorous, when she is up for it…
    so.. we had this converstaion on what is, why we really like and enjoy so much to be around each other, because we both had had previous relationships where our energy would be really really annoying to the other part, and vice versa.
    My suggestion was, that when you SENSE (receive, experience, take in, allow etc.) from a higly energetic state, you could say that you are a SOURCE being using your FEMININE essence, or channel. and ofcourse, everything you do as a conscious SOURCE being, is stunningly miraculous ! :-)
    When you ACT (initiate, “punch”, engage, express etc) from a highly energetic state, you could say that you are using your MASCULINE essence, or channel.
    And the two are interdependant, one is compleeting the other, and you have a Feedback-inspired flow, of MIRACULOUS LIFE EXPERIENCE in MOTION.
    This is something I feel like exploring more consciously, because Listening alone is magical, I agree totally, but the love and excitement of inspired engagement and “punchy”, spontaneous action is also wonderful.
    I mean, in the end it all boils down to what YOU are, as a SOURCE being, and what you truly, and passionately are engaged in. I dont find it nescesary to “be listened to” from a emphatic point of view. I would rather enjoy a vigorous response. I know how to create and attract Loving, wonderfull people, and I am more than willing to help out anyone who find my energy and “punch” appealing . But then again… it can be confusing when you feel loyalty to , say like a family member, but you dont really enjoy their vibe? what do you do?
    Why spend so much energy to make them change? Why not tell them your point of view, and then go about exploring your OWN life? is this too radical?

    anyways, just another thought

    hey Erika, I love to connect with you, your sites are awesome!


    Hans Henrik

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    […] Listening […]

  6. Has listening gone the way of the dessert fork? « l i f e b l a z i n g . c o m Says:

    […] mentioned before here and here my belief that lavish listening is a simple way to improve a person’s mood (both […]

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