You’re about to read Chapter 41. Want to start this story from the beginning? Go here.
I confess: I love to talk. Like, a lot. But listening is so, so, so much more important.
“For truly, listening is love in action.”
I love listening.
For a long time, I was a terrible listener.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care what other people saying. Just, I didn’t know how to really hear them. I was too caught up in my own head, thinking about how to respond, or maybe not thinking about the conversation at all.
In any case, that’s not how things are today, and I am grateful.
Which is a blessing, because as Katherine says, “once you have mastered the ability to authentically listen with your whole body, absorbing even the rich subtleties in the unspoken, you will have discovered the key to intimacy.”
Authentic listening can be simple
As Katherine defines it, “authentic listening is simply the giving of our undivided attention to another without imposing our personal agendas.”
And though simple does not mean easy, at least it does mean simple.
All I have to do is focus on what’s in front of me, keeping my own mind blank, allowing my body to be a receptive vessel for the energy another person needs to offer.
Yeah, that’s all. So simple!
Fortunately, I have a couple tricks that help me out.
My best tricks for authentic listening are nonreactive and reflective
I really do believe that authentic listening is, as Katherine says, “the generous act of giving someone the space to be exactly who they are and exactly who they are not.”
Years ago, in the throes of my toxic relationship with Leo, I started reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle because Oprah proclaimed it, like book club book of the world or something.
That was my first introduction to deeply spiritual yet pragmatic approaches to energetic communication, and I quickly became adept at recognizing what Eckhart calls the “pain-body.”
(My boyfriend’ pain-body was very large, so it wasn’t hard to miss.)
Anyway, in that book, Eckart advocates for staying purely present in the face of others’ emotional intensity; listening as an act of presence and nothing more.
Nonreactive listening means staying kindly quiet
If you have never tried this technique, I totally recommend it, especially in high-intensity situations.
It’s amazing what happens to someone’s energy when you refuse to feed it but instead remain a calm and compassionate witness.
So that is a tool I have been working with for a decade now, and I do think it works well.
In particular, the act of staying present for someone else keeps me from drifting into my own thoughts, because it takes a lot of focus not to absorb someone else’s energy, but instead to lovingly allow it.
(Honestly, I’d love to launch into a few key anecdotes on this topic, but I’m a little low on time today. Suffice to say, nonreactive listening is a high-quality skill worth developing.)
Reflective listening means echoing with understanding
On a more day-to-day basis, I find reflective listening to be a godsend.
Unlike nonreactivity, my goal with this method is not to stay neutral, but rather to respond with empathy and understanding.
To do this effectively, a lot of the time I find myself literally repeating what they are telling me inside my own head, swapping the pronouns as though I were echoing them out loud.
My friend’s words: “I couldn’t believe they said that to me! I was so pissed.”
In my head: You couldn’t believe they said that to you. You were so pissed.
If this technique sounds rudimentary, well, yeah. It is.
Authentic listening can be simple, remember?
The important thing is, it works.
Sometimes I will verbalize the reflection: “I hear you. What they said made you really angry!”
But more often than not, reflecting in my own head is enough to keep me zeroed in on the other person, which is my primary goal.
Good listeners make great lovers
Just putting it out there, Paul was a fucking phenomenal listener. He had a lot of attractive qualities, but that was definitely one of the sexiest.
I mean, is there anything more satisfying than feeling heard, understood, and accepted?
Maybe for some people. But for me, I’m not sure there is.
At any rate, as much as I miss the intimacy of our high-quality conversations, during the months of this separation I’ve rediscovered an important truth:
Every person can listen well and love greatly.
Not every person will, of course, but my desire to be heard, understood, and accepted can certainly be fulfilled by multiple people, none of whom need be a romantic partner.
And indeed, I am blessed with many amazing relationships, and a lot of those people are amazing listeners, which in turn inspires me to listen better to everyone around me.
Because everyone deserves to be heard. And as Katherine posits, “what if every person you came in contact today—coworkers, family members, neighbors, even the strangers you pass on the street—carried the possibility of a profound gift for you, ad your job was to give each of them enough of your attention so you could receive it?”
I think her hypothesis might well be true.
And I definitely believe attention is the most generous gift we can give.
Lesson 41 in practice
For the Lesson 41 homework, Katherine gives us a checklist of possible things that might be going on within us while we attempt to listen to others.
We’re meant to identify which items on the list most resonate, and then journal for a while about our internal experiences while we listen.
There happened to be loud jackhammering occurring right outside my window while I did this exercise, which made for some entertaining irony.
But mostly I found it encouraging, because yes, the items on the checklist were familiar—while listening to someone, I might be judging them, or myself, or thinking of my response, or on the defense, or trying to fix a perceived problem.
However, these days, I really do think I am pretty good about using nonreactivity and reflection to clear my mind while I take in the energy of others.
And it’s true that I almost always do have a response—I’m opinionated and I’m a talker and I always want to help, so, that goes with the territory.
But as my listening skills improve, so does my ability to pause. When a possible reply floats into my brain and the other person is still talking, I file my words away and refocus on what I’m hearing instead.
Because in a world where it can feel like getting some authentic human contact is a competition, I want everyone I speak with to feel like a winner.
Love > fear,
Want to know what happens next? Proceed to Chapter 42.