It was my sophomore year of college, and a friend had just found me in the library and told me he had something private to tell me. He asked me to follow him to a secluded place that he might share in private, and I followed him out of the library, across the lawns that connected buildings at my college. As soon as I walked out of the library, a voice in my head told me that my friend was going to tell me he was gay.
There were two important instances of listening in this story, even before my friend and I actually sat down and he shared with me what he had to say. The first was that, prior to his decision to tell people, I had appeared to him as a person worth telling, a person it might be safe to tell. This means he knew in advance that I would listen nonjudgmentally and with my whole heart. The second instance of listening was when I listened to my intuition, which told me what my friend was going to share before he had a chance to do so.
I have often been called a good listener, and I wanted to write a short essay on why that is so, on what inner practices I maintain that help me hold space for myself and others. What am I doing within my private domain nearly all the time, that signals to others I am a safe listener? How do I free myself up for intuition? While listening, how do I continually cue others that I am safe?
There are three basic principles that I want to get across, all of which could be translated in different ways for readers’ lives:
1) Nonjudgement/curiosity: whether I am listening to someone else or not, I always try to receive what comes before me as a phenomenon which simply is, neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. I do this in my inner domain as well as the outer, bringing a curiosity toward that which manifests within me. Do I want to harm another person? Ah, well, then I want to harm another person. This instinct is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong; it is simply something within me; like all things in time, it will pass.
When I take this attitude toward myself, I send the cue to others that they, too, will be received in this way: they and their stories will not be judged; they will simply be regarded as things which are, and as such, are deserving of love. When I perceive something, my base attitude toward it is the desire to understand, and as a wise person in my family once said, “Love and understanding are the same thing.”
2) Balance of head, heart, and spirit: at the time my friend approached me in college, I lived pretty much my whole life in the head, meaning that was my primary means of interpreting and granting significance to the world. This orientation is neither right nor wrong; the head, on its own, can know many things, and during this time I learned and achieved much within academia. Still, the head is without rudder in lieu of the heart and spirit, so it is only by coming into greater alignment with those instruments that I have become able to direct thought when I need it, and otherwise, let it go. With this shift in consciousness, there is a greater allowance for space, a key element in listening.
I also think the body in particular is important to the kind of intuition that manifested in my story, as the body is interconnected with all other physical elements in the universe, and as such, can offer knowledge of them. The head functions step by step, and alone; it needs proofs in order to ascertain things, and always renders a skepticism as to others’ contributions. The body, not so much: it tells us that a space is safe or unsafe, before we even know why, and often we’re left unsure afterward how the body could have arrived at such a knowledge. It simply knew.
To get into the body, I recommend any practice that helps you slow down and feel into your body, such as meditation, yoga, or the martial arts. The possibilities for what could serve this end are really limitless.
3) Comfort with space: this is the one of my three general principles that I most associate with spirit, and it comes through any practice that makes us aware of—and thus comfortable with—silence. Again, meditation can serve this end, as can yoga and other eastern modalities. So can walking around or sitting in nature. Often, I sit on my couch with a drink in hand, and intentionally stare out a window and do nothing but think.
With time, what these practices will demonstrate is that we have more in common with the space around things than we do with things themselves—in other words, we are more than even our bodies, and certainly more than our minds. The more we know this, the more others will be called to share with us, and the more intuitions of the spirit we will receive; we will know—and others will sense from us—that anything they share will ultimately be regarded as ephemeral, as simply one more thing in the play of forms that is life. There is no need to judge or lash out against anyone.
As good listeners, we heal the world simply by being available. My friend felt safe and soothed when he shared with me what he had to share, and I regarded him no differently. We teach one another that we are fine just as we are, that nothing need be done, and as such, we learn faith as well as companionship, surrender as well as union. We are never alone when in touch with the space that makes listening possible.