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Lions Roar : January 2014
contemplate, and engage in the thoughts of another, understanding and respond- ing to their emotional state. As in any other activity, it helps to practice listening. The best way to listen is to learn to hold your seat. The exchange of power has been handed over to the speaker, who is now directing the conversation’s mood and energy. If you feel insecure about your role as the listener, you may feel intimidated and anxious, inadvertently or compulsively interrupting the conversation in order to regain control. Thus, holding your seat is a process of engagement and self-assurance. It also clearly expresses your discipline in controlling your speech, especially in a conversational setting where the purpose is to volley back and forth words and ideas. When it is your turn to listen, it is clearly the other person’s opportunity to serve. Thus, listening often requires a greater sense of calm and self-assurance than talking. A good listener is not threatened by another taking the reins of power. When we are unable to listen, a number of things are occurring. The first is related to time: we are unable to be in the present moment, for listening requires us to be on the spot. Therefore, listening is clearly a practice of mindfulness. It is engagement or attentiveness. Listening also requires us to feel and to care. Listening helps us bal- ance our relationship with others. When we do not care and are inatten- tive—and thus cannot hear—our mind is focused on ourselves. We care more about our thoughts than what the speaker is say- ing. We let memories of past experiences or fantasies of the future interfere with our present act of listening. This can hap- pen quite unconsciously: we ask a friend about the food at a new restaurant. She says it is good, and casually mentions lik- ing the fish tank in the entryway. As we remember the fish we saw while snorkel- ing on vacation, we cease to care, and by the time we come back to our friend’s words, she’s describing dessert. When we are unable to listen, we lose connectivity. At the least, daydreaming while someone else is speaking is a subtle form of rudeness. As well, in tuning out of the conversation to rehash old memories, we are slowly ingraining our tendency to be jaded. The present moment and other people are not interesting to us, so we are less available to new stimuli. Losing touch with human connectivity, we forget that conversation is not simply about dialogue but also about caring for another and appreciating human interaction. In engaging in conversation, our atten- tion should first be on the other person, with our ear faculty focused on their speech. This focus should be specific, so we are not simultaneously paying atten- tion to music, other conversations, birds chirping, or dogs barking. In order for this focus to occur, we have to relax. When we do not listen well, there is often tension in the body, which is related to aggression. Something about the other person is preventing us from truly listening. Perhaps we do not fully trust them or we do not really respect them. To relieve this blockage, it can be help- ful to inhale or exhale, sit down or stand up, uncross our arms or legs, or touch and feel the place of tension in our body. After reconnecting with the body through our posture or breath, we may find ourselves relaxed enough to listen. Even brief moments of genuine con- versation can uplift our entire life. They can help us touch the core emotional ele- ments that make us truly human. They can keep us from feeling isolated and introverted. The art of conversation is not just based upon what clever wordsmiths we can be but equally on how perceptive we can be as listeners. True listening, like the art of conver- sation, is a skill we develop. We have to come out of our own insecurities and self-absorption, which takes confidence and relaxation. We have to care about another person, which takes maturity. Some stories and dialogues are painful or disturbing, so listening also takes brav- ery. They can also be boring, tedious, and irritating, so patience and compassion are required. Thus, the noble qualities of a good listener can overcome many of the faults of a poor conversationalist. And even though listening is a receptive act, it is a simultaneously dynamic endeavor that allows everyone to grow. ♦ 16 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2014