How to Connect? Just Listen...

When we shift our attention toward listening, our whole world changes. Learning to listen is equal to learning to love. --Ruth Cox

My grown daughter has been a fan of "chat packs" since she was a small child. On long car rides we'd take turns asking questions from her card collection. There were left field questions like: "If you had to be of a different ethnicity than you actually are, to which heritage would you most like to belong?" and deceptively simple ones like "What are you most proud of?"

To me it felt like a gift to repeatedly be asked what I thought about something, and to have my answers really attended to. It actually is rather a rare thing, when you think about it.

But isn't our attentive, receptive presence the most important thing we have to give each other?

At its best, listening is pure attention.

We set other distractions aside.

When we listen deeply, we are still and slow to respond.

We are receptive and have no agenda.

We listen to the whole being of another with the whole being of ourselves.

This is the only kind of listening that is needed in times of loss, in the realization of truths that we might not want to hear, and in times of confusion. It is why "technique" in therapy is one thing, but the capacity of the therapist to deeply listen is what often is the most healing aspect of the relationship.

The neuroscience behind the healing aspects of deep listening is fascinating. The anterior cingulate cortex (the part of the brain we use to focus our conscious attention), also acts as switching station between the brain's right (feelings) and left (thoughts) hemispheres. The focused attention it takes to deeply listen helps to integrate the processing of both hemispheres. So when we deeply listen, or are listened to, we can connect to deeper inner truths and "hear" ourselves in a new way. The pre-frontal cortex then integrates these new understandings for us.

Researchers at the Stone Center in Massachussetts have found that people actually speak better when they are deeply listened to. Contrast this to the universal experience of losing your train of thought while being distracted by someone who is wagging their head at you trying to get you to speak faster! Ouch!

Enough of the science lesson! If you want richer connections, just pause...listen...clear yourself...and listen...while knowing that still, compassionate attention is the greatest gift we can offer each other.

And while you're at it, why not break out a chat pack? "What is one event in the future whose outcome you would really like to know now?" Ask and listen!

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