Today’s Word: ‘listening’ as in… it’s an art form, silly!
I experienced listening as an art form some years ago that helped me reframe how I want to listen to others. I’m convinced that if we worked at this together, beginning with ourselves – me beginning with me, etc., our relationships would thrive in ways that could make the gift of each present moment far more enriching. Listening is an art form that takes discipline and practice.
I began to understand this on a deeper level when I first met Eugene Peterson in February of 2012. I was writing a book and Eugene had agreed to talk with me about it and give me some input. He also agreed to endorse the book once it was finished and I am blessed to have had him do that. During a timeless afternoon with Eugene and his wife Jan in their home in Lakeside, Montana, I came prepared with a full page of questions. Of course Paul Gauche came with a full page of questions! We were sitting together in his beautiful-eagle’s-nest-of-an-office, and I began at the top of the page working my way down. Each question for Eugene was a launching point into places I never could have imagined. Plumbing the depths of this man’s pastoral mind and heart was amazing.
What struck me, though, was how remarkably intentional Eugene was with his responses, how purposeful he was with our conversation, how completely present he was in that moment. Here’s what I mean: As I asked him each question, Eugene sat quietly looking back at me; listening to me, almost studying me as my words floated in the air between us waiting for a place to land and then connect. He seemed to be listening long after I had finished asking a question. A couple of times I even wondered if he’d heard the question. But then, just about the time I’d feel the urge to break that rich, thick, delicious silence and repeat or rephrase my question, Eugene would gently draw in a breath and respond.
This happened again and again: I’d ask a question and Eugene, listening, would just dwell in it. Sometimes for up to a full 30 seconds or more, Eugene would savor the present moment and everything in it. He seemed to be listening not just to what I had asked, but the actual moment that we were sharing together. And then he’d respond.
What a gift. I felt so listened to. I felt so honored. I felt so heard and understood. Sitting together with Eugene in that listening space was a deeply present moment that, to this very day, has remained one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.
Some questions: When have you felt really listened to? How would you describe the difference between ‘listening’ and ‘hearing’? Who does this well for you? Who could you do that for today? What part of the art form and discipline of listening would you want to more fully develop in your life?