They key to understanding and compassion often lies in the art of listening. Many people hear what you say, but not many truly listen.
Often, when we are “listening” to someone speak, we are already forming our own replies in our minds before the person has even finished speaking. It is impossible to actually truly listen to what they are saying when we are doing so. I make a conscious effort to truly listen, and still occasionally slip up, catching myself and saying “Listen”. And when the person has finished talking, and I’ve truly listened, then I reply, if the answer is worthy.
The art of listening, I fear, is dying. It isn’t simply physical sound, but also when we read articles, books – other people’s words in any form – that misinterpretation can happen because we are not truly listening to them, as we are too involved in our own opinions and attachments to the subject matter. After developing the art of listening, I find that I am reading books that I read a year or two years ago, and I am getting so much more out of these books, as I am simply paying more attention to the voice contained within the pages, and not my own.
I remember watching a parliamentary debate for the first time on television, and being astounded at the complete disregard there was for not only listening, but even hearing. Party members would get maybe a sentence or two out before their opposing party made as much noise as possible, expressing their displeasure before the person had even finished speaking. I remember thinking “is this the way that adults really talk to each other? No one can understand anyone else – what is the point?” It was rude and obnoxious, and saddened me that these were the people who were running the country.
Have you ever observed two young toddlers together, who haven’t learned to speak yet? More often than not, they will make noises and “talk” to each other, and the other will listen with rapt attention before replying. I love this so much – how is it that we have forgotten this simple wonder of sharing and communication with another human being?
On the internet, it is even easier to misinterpret, to not listen, because most of the time we don’t even consider that the person we are talking to is even a real person – they are an abstraction, an online presence of the real person. It allows for rudeness and trolling as well, which would, I hope, never happen in a real life situation with people you don’t even know (and worse if it is people that are known!). So many people will read a blog such as this, and not truly read it, but coming in with their own opinions, and without the art of listening, not really understand the message that is coming across. In our dualistic society, we have cultivated a culture of Us and Them, and if you are not with Us, you must be with Them, therefore what you have to say is irrelevant – oh, and I’m going to comment on your post. Or worse, people skim read and then comment – it is as disrespectful as interrupting someone in mid-sentence, or a parliamentary debate.
We can develop the art of listening in the Spring, when all of nature is awakening to the returning warmth and sunlight, the life-giving rains and flows of energy that run through the land and our very own souls. Go outside, and truly listen. Don’t simply think “I hear birds”. Really, really listen to each bird in the multitude, not merely hearing their song but truly listening. You will find a connection with that soul, and from there meet the multitudes of other souls we share this little planet with. You will also step outside the chattering of the self and experience a world of so many souls you cannot even begin to count, giving a much bigger perspective of the world by stepping away from the self.
In Druidry, especially in the Bardic traditions, we learn the art of listening. To play music, to sing a song, to tell a story, to recite history, to satire current affairs, we need to really know the subject, to take it deep within ourselves and make it a part of our own story before we can tell it with any sort of meaning. In order to do so, we must first listen with every fibre of our being – not just with our ears, but with our hearts and souls as well. Imagine if you did this with everything – your cat, your next door neighbour, the rising moon, a politician, the spider on your wall. Everything has a story worth telling, and worth listening to.
When we listen, we make a connection that transcends the superficial relationships that are so prevalent in today’s society. We reach out, soul to soul, in love and in respect, with honour. We don’t even have to like the person, but we can still do so honourably, acknowledging their words as expression of their souls, which is turn is an expression of everything in the universe.
It gives a whole new depth, a whole new dimension to explore, and is well worth the effort.