How often do you listen?
Nearly everything in our lives is interwoven with sound, in the form of conversations, music, and plenty of plain ol’ noise. But how much of that consumption is actually listening, versus mere hearing?
The challenge is that all of this unintentional noise consumption has put us at a disadvantage.
Hearing is something that we all do automatically, all day long. It’s the functional act of being stimulated by received or perceived sound, whether that’s the sound of the TV, music in the background or an ambulance rolling past us with its sirens blaring.
Listening, on the other hand, is directing our full, thoughtful attention to that sound for the purpose of gaining understanding.
Remember that time your spouse complained you weren’t listening? Well, maybe you weren’t.
Consider for a moment how much time you actually spend listening. More importantly, however, consider what might happen if you retrained your mind to listen during the times you’ve only been hearing.
How might that enhance your human experience?
The importance of listening extends beyond enjoying your favorite music on a deeper level (although that can be pretty transformative and pleasurable by itself!).
Think back on recent moments of conversation where your spouse or boss or children listened to you entirely and wholly. How did their presence make you feel? How did it shift the nature of the conversation?
Now reflect on times when they were NOT actually listening. Perhaps they responded half-heartedly or maybe they made you believe they were listening, but upon deepening the conversation, they had “forgotten” something (or everything) important you had said.
How did that make you feel?
When we have to repeat ourselves, we don’t feel fully understood and our words don’t feel validated. It’s frustrating, and eventually, it will make us less inclined to share or communicate in healthy ways.
Why Do We Hear, but Fail to Listen?
They found that no matter how diligently any of the subjects “listened”, they could only remember half of what they heard.
Are we REALLY that distracted?!
The reasons for this lack of listening basically come down to two things:
- Over-stimulation — Too often we are plugged into several stimuli at once: whining kids or spouses, our cellphones, cooking, music, reading, whatever it may be. Unfortunately, our thought speed is much faster than our listening speed. So while we may hear that someone has said something, multitasking leaves our intentional listening by the wayside. Choosing to engage mindfully in one task at a time reduces the “noise” that shrouds our ability to listen.
- Response Anticipation —While someone is talking to us, we are often preparing a response, rather than actually giving them our full attention. Our mind races ahead, forgetting to stay mindfully in the moment of the conversation.
When we are overstimulated emotionally or sensorily, we cannot focus and listen in real time. When we are constantly in our “preparation to respond” mode, we are not able to listen and experience in real time.
Does your brain deserve 10 minutes to improve your listening?!
You guessed it, I have a practice for you to play with this week!
While I hope that you try to apply these ideas generally and listen more dynamically to all the wonderful cacophony that is your life, I do have a specific musical challenge for you.
First, you need to block out 10 minutes during which you will be undisturbed — when you will have absolutely nothing else demanding your attention.
Your challenge will be to listen to the piece of music I’ve posted below and to pay attention to how it makes you feel. There’s no need to analyze or judge it — you’re not trying to earn a master’s in music theory here 😉
Set yourself up with headphones if you choose, and for 10 short minutes just listen to the music. Observe any sensations that may arise.
While this is a listening exercise, it’s also a mindfulness exercise, so closing your eyes will enhance your experience even more. (And this should go without saying, but yes, that means putting your phone away.)
Let me know how this first exercise goes. I hope you find this piece pleasurable — I actually wrote a deep analysis of it in grad school (I DO have a master’s in Music!) and it has a special place in my heart and ears.
One last little word of caution before you hit play: start the volume as low as you can to hear the beginning pitches, as the range of volume is rather dynamic!
Ok, here it is. Take a listen:
Well, did you like it?
Now that you’ve listened, take a few breaths and just check-in with yourself. How did the experience feel for you? It may have been challenging. Has your feeling changed now, a few moments later?
Like the volume, the dynamism of listening cannot be ignored. There is so much more to “listening” than most of us realize. So, stay tuned for next week’s issue where we’ll dig a little deeper.
For now, keep listening and keep practicing.