By Heidi Majano
Listening begins with a wish.
My earliest memory on active listening was when my family members told stories of their upbringing during times of poverty and war in El Salvador. Being raised in a household full of animated story tellers, I developed a knack towards listening. At bedtime, my aunt played the guitar and sang her childhood songs; her soothing voice was calming. Staying quiet under my warm covers, I remember my whole being listening to her every note and gesture.
As I reflect growing up in a western culture, listening was not always the most valued role. Teaching, speaking and preaching hold center stage and the act of listening takes on a passive role. As we continue to create a vast technical web of online platforms of communication, the exchanges we have with each other are often superficial, unsatisfying and void of a deeper impression of one’s human existence. Part of my job at the Peaceful World Foundation and a huge part of my personal life is to listen. I listen for a living and I have a deep wish to share what I have learned and keep learning about the act of listening.
My act of listening has developed over the years much like cooking, I made a few bad choices and I found a few savory ingredients along the way that help make a conversation memorable. Skillful listening is difficult and requires practice, discipline and a wish to understand. Whether in a therapeutic or interpersonal situation, observing ourselves and watching how we listen is instrumental.
During a conversation, how I listen is a gateway to seeing how I am at any given moment. For the clarity of beginning the discussion on the act of listening I want to draw from the following:
- Observing oneself
- Sensing one’s posture
- Aligning to a finer quality of attention
Although writing about the act of listening may be extensive and broad, beginning with a wish to observe oneself offers a new possibility of exploration. We can all relate to having a conversation with a colleague or a friend and in the middle of the conversation, their mind drifts and they become distracted in which case we become annoyed and the conversation dissolves. In other instances, we too may drift and return to a conversation by interrupting the person in the middle of their sentence because we don’t really want to listen to what is being said unless it refers directly to us or we view the conversation as a competitive match in which we want to prove our importance.
Here, the mind creates a kind of opposition that reacts to what it perceives is being said. This form of perception comes from what the mind has been conditioned to perceive whether it be learned behaviors, unresolved insecurities or trauma, belief systems, lack of attention or interest and approaching conversations in this format result in misunderstandings. We listen poorly.
The development of an inner self is necessary for providing another kind of possibility towards listening. Over the years, a question has risen within me; how can I be more here for this present conversation?
Peaceful World Conversations offer unique opportunities to share and reflect on our life journeys. As a facilitator of these conversations, I have come to value ideas on how we contribute to the well-being and the development of ourselves. Our founder, Sami Sunchild, traveled extensively for over thirty years and engaged in conversations with many locals and travelers alike. Building on her acute observations, she developed a unique communication and conversation style.
What I have learned over facilitating hundreds of conversations both locally and internationally is that at the core of a good conversation is the act of skillful listening. Learning to listen skillfully takes ongoing disciplined practice where I am aware of both what is going on inside my being and what is happening outside of my being. Over the years, sensing my posture during a conversation supports another quality of attention to the conversation. By mindfully shifting my posture and sensing my breathing, I am preparing myself to try to be open to what will be shared and what will be exchanged. For me, the question of a kind of inner attitude surfaces. Do I come to the conversation with perceived notions, ideas, judgments or do I arrive to the conversation with a kind of openness and a sense of wonder?
This quality of attention is of a transformative nature, one that happens organically when I make myself more available to the conversation. When I am more “here” during a conversation something happens and, in my experience, being heard heals, nurtures and transforms. The more we listen skillfully the better listeners we become not only in conversations, but we begin to expand into another kind of listening towards ourselves, our bodies, our relationships and our wider communities. My journey on listening has been and continues to offer a study on my human condition.
I am deeply touched by the conversations we have had with our 2018 grantees. By listening deeply to the world around and within me, I am learning that what causes suffering in me causes suffering in others. The fabricated illusion that separates me from you, from the greater community begins to dissolve as we listen to each other and we see that we are more alike than unlike. The Peaceful World Foundation looks forward to continuing cultivating and building relationships with our 2018 grantees in their peace building efforts.