”Chop Suey” by Edward Hopper. Wikimedia Commons.
The most popular of the daily quotations I put on Twitter, the ones that receive the most ‘likes’ and retweets, are often centred around the theme of listening.
Why is this?
We all need to be heard, to have someone to listen to us, especially when we are feeling emotional. Being truly listened to, perhaps by a friend or therapist, is in itself highly therapeutic.
Carl Rogers expressed this thought in a few poignant and moving words:
Developing expertise in listening, really listening to another person, including the music behind their words and the non-verbal communications, involves a kind of attention that many people often do not find easy.
This post represents a selection of listening quotations that I have found particularly helpful.
The Conversation. Edgar Degas. Publicdomainpictures.net
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
Hemingway’s quotation neatly encapsulates the need for us all to listen better to those around us. Listening carefully and empathically to another person is a skill that many of us need to learn and continually re-learn.
The words ‘listen completely’ imply a kind of ‘whole body’ experience; it is as if we need to use all our senses to really be present for the other person.
This is a real giving of ourselves, our attention, concentration, time and love, to another.
Alexei von Jawlensky – Portrait of a Woman. Wikimedia Commons.
“…most people in the world don’t really use their brains to think. And people who don’t think are the ones who don’t listen to others.”
The above quotation makes the important link between listening and thinking.
What ways of thinking help us to listen better?
If we examine carefully how we listen to others, reflecting upon our listening style and manner, we might think up several questions for ourselves.
These questions are not only relevant to therapists, but to anyone who would like to improve their listening ability. Here are some such questions, by way of example:
- Do I listen to the other person with the intention to understand and really hear what they are saying, or am I formulating my own reply as they speak?
- Will my response help the other person to stay with what they are saying, or will it take them into my own agenda?
- Am I listening to the music behind the other’s words or am I only listening superficially to what they are saying?
Elizabeth Peyton – Jarvis. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“When I have been listened to and when I have been heard, I am able to re-perceive my world in a new way and to go on. It is astonishing how elements that seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens, how confusions that seem irremediable turn into relatively clear flowing streams when one is heard. I have deeply appreciated the times that I have experienced this sensitive, empathic, concentrated listening.”
Carl R. Rogers
“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.”
Carl R Rogers
Here is the therapeutic core of the listening experience. Rogers is underlining the ways in which truly being listened to can be immensely helpful in terms of clarifying feelings and moving on in life.
In therapy, once we have felt heard and have gained insight into our thoughts and feelings, real change can be achieved.
James Jebusa Shannon – Jungle Tales (Contes de la Jungle) 
“We are storied folk. Stories are what we are; telling and listening to stories is what we do.”
Listening to stories helps us learn from others.
From the earliest cave paintings, to communications on Twitter, human beings have needed to tell their stories and have them heard and witnessed by others.
They do so to connect to other people, to preserve history and to pass something on into the future through their narratives.
If we listen carefully to others’ experiences through their stories, whether real or fictional, we will learn about different kinds of lives, different ways of thinking.
We will also connect to other people as we recognise aspects of ourselves in them.
Listening to stories helps us to understand, relate to and empathise with others’ feelings and points of view.
Jockum Nordström – Ett Ogonblick I Kanten Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
“For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity…”
Listening to the sounds of nature can be a way of distracting ourselves from anxiety and daily concerns; it can also, as Wordsworth points out, connect us to what is happening in the world at a deeper level, depending on our ways of thinking.
If we allow ourselves to think, and feel, in a concentrated way, whilst out in natural surroundings, we may, like Wordsworth, connect with something more profound.
‘The still, sad music of humanity’ is what he hears when he allows himself to reflect on and contemplate the world and its people in the midst of nature.
With all that is currently happening around us, I think that many of us could also listen to nature and reflect on how it might bring deeper insight into ourselves and the world.
Listen now, even just for a minute or two, to some of the wonderful sounds of nature in the video below.
Relax, close your eyes….. and LISTEN!
‘Nature Sounds of a Forest River for Relaxing-Natural Soothing Sound of a Waterfall & Bird Sounds.” Johnnie Lawson. YouTube.
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