Stories & Musings

Three Steps to Listen Well

Guest post by Cassandra Lim

Photo by Josephine Chan, at a Buddhist Temple , Wat UMong, Chiang Mai, 2015.

Photo by Jo Chan, at a Buddhist Temple, Wat UMong, Chiang Mai, 2015.

Three Steps to Listen Well. 

1) Be patient. Give the other all the time in the world. Do not rush them, let them know this is their time, and you are fully with them.

2) Practise non-violence. In Buddhism, one of the main tenets is non-violence. Violence is not only physical harm; it can also sneak its way in subtly, such as assuming we know what is best for another. There is violence in telling another person how they should or should not feel, or wanting to ‘fix’ them or even ‘help’ them with well-meant advice.

To listen well is to have complete acceptance of another in our interaction with them, respecting that their ideas and feelings, ways of behaving and living are right for them, and that there is a reason they behave that way.

The Chinese character for the word, to Listen, comprising of ears, you eyes, undivided attention, wholeheartedness.

The Chinese character for the word, to Listen, comprising of ears, you eyes, undivided attention, wholeheartedness.

3) Know someone who is an amazing listener. Fall in love with him, because he hears you deeply like your parents never did while you were growing up. Fall in love, because in his presence, you laugh harder, feel more deeply and think more deeply about everything in life. Exchange your life stories, secrets, fears, hopes and raw vegan recipes with him. Spend hours at night contemplating the secrets and mysteries of the Universe with him.

In his eyes is a bottomless depth that you tumble endlessly into. Because he is such a beautiful listener, you are inspired to give your full attention and presence to others, because now you know how healing it is to be fully heard, seen and received.

Have him leave you. Suddenly. With no explanation. None. Have your heart broken so deeply, you feel like you can never breathe again. Seek him in all the people you meet afterwards, only to realise there is no one quite like him.

Spend the next two years mending your broken heart. Quit your job, leave your country, move to a foreign country. Spend some time in a silent meditation retreat in a monastery, realising the only lifelong listener to that non-stop voice in your head is yourself.

Return home, and have him call you after two years of disappearance.

I heard you returned home. How have you been?” he asks. “What have you learnt during your time away?”

Your heart has not only healed by now, it has also grown a steel wall so tall, weeds cannot even climb over, let alone future heartbreakers. Your mind is armed with Buddhist philosophies on non-attachment and impermanence to shield itself from experiencing such hurt again.

Share your experiences and your insights politely, but not fully. Ask him about himself.

He pauses for a long time and says, “You’ve always been listening to me. Now I just want to listen to you. Please go on. Tell me, what else did you learn about life?

Part of you sense restlessness and dissatisfaction in him. He seems to be seeking for an answer, and your answers are not enough for him.

He asks if you are free tomorrow night.

Weigh your options. Tuesday evenings are for long runs after work, and sleeping early. And part of you – the part that has walls around it – does not really want to find out more about him. Some things are better left unknown, and some people are better left in the past. “I can’t tomorrow.” You say. “Let’s catch up some other time.

You never get to. He kills himself a month later.

He was only 36 years old.

When you find out, you cry so hard, you feel like you can never breathe again.

Where did you go?

I never even got to say goodbye.

I’m sorry.

Please forgive me.

I love you.

Everything speaks – not just words, but facial expressions, body postures, even long silences.

If you care to listen well enough, you can hear the sadness underneath bitterness, helplessness beneath the questions, and the call for love behind angry words.

When we are speaking, what we are really saying to another is: Listen to me, receive me, be with me, understand me.

To listen well is to both give, and to receive a rare and precious gift. One of the most beautiful experiences we can receive is the full vulnerability of the other – those bare-naked emotions that feel safe enough to emerge from behind the carefully constructed protective ego.

Listen well.

Because it matters more to the other than you’ll realise sometimes.

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