How to Really Listen and Connect in Your Relationships

How to Really Listen and Connect in Your Relationships

MAUDE: We spent a lovely several hours at a New Year’s Eve brunch last Sunday. There were around 15 people gathered together at a scrumptious potluck in the park, with our hostess, the fabulous Lily, supplying tiaras, necklaces, horns, noise makers and the lot. We shared riddles, jokes and merriment, a big silver ball being lowered to a countdown and a laugh-filled white elephant game.

Before all this sharing and caring, though, we sat in a circle and Lily read a quote from the end of a Mary Oliver poem, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” She then asked each of us to speak about a time in our lives that felt the best, or where we felt most alive, or to talk about anything we desired, or to pass.

What ensued was moving and very profound. As we went around the circle, a deep quiet settled between us; a warm, loving silence. In this silence, we sat hearing with wonder and openness what each person shared. It felt embracing both to listen in this full-hearted manner and to be listened to in this way.

It was not about the practice of active listening; not about specifically remembering or being able to repeat back. It had a purity about it. It was as if we were all spellbound with each other. This was listening with an effortless and rapt attention. There was no judgment, nor any comment on what was shared. It was taken in for its deep value, as one heart speaking to another.

And when it was my turn to speak, it felt the same in reverse. It was so satisfying to openly share a part of myself with this circle of some people I knew well, and others not at all. Our common bond went above the past knowing or not. It had an almost magical quality to it.

At the center of this experience was a feeling of great calm and peace. And joy! Something so simple, yet so profound. These offerings were all filled with truth, the deep truth of what each person felt and picked to share.

We can offer this to one another in each of our relationships. We can listen for the pure joy of coming to know the other person more deeply; nothing to question, nothing to discuss nor debate nor change. Sensing that you are being heard in this way, being listened to with no intent other than to hear you, is a great gift and it bestows a unique kind of relaxation and peace.

Being listened to in this way starts with you listening in this way. It spreads peace within relationships, one relationship at a time.To deeply connect with someone, you have to both be able to listen and be able to reveal yourself #quote Share on X

PHIL: As Maude has described, we went to a New Year’s Eve gathering in a local park that a friend puts on each year. It’s a potluck with silly hats, a white elephant exchange, and a celebration of the new year at noon, not midnight. Everyone brought a chair and we formed a circle. Our host started with that quote from Mary Oliver and invited us to answer the question or talk about the time when we felt most alive or anything we wanted. We went around the circle of 15 people in turn. Each person spoke from the heart about their life and their hopes and, get this, everybody else listened in silence. It was a powerful experience to pay full attention to each person in turn and to feel the whole audience doing the same.

Such forthrightness is unusual in today’s world because so much of our behavior is modulated to fit in with others, but the setting of New Year’s Eve, a circle, and our host’s invitation to speak deeply created this sense of connection.

So how can we make this happen with strangers, friends, intimates?

It starts by listening without criticism. You may not approve; you may know that you would never act like that yourself, whatever it is. But you really want to hear what the person is saying and what drives them. You are sitting with the experience, rather than reacting to it.

The other person can sense your attention and the absence of judging energy, which gives them the opportunity to be more personal and exposed, and because of this intimacy, you can share more of yourself in turn. This sets up a feedback loop in both directions.

This can grow and deepen and reach a place where each of you is indubitably speaking of the same thing. It’s a very strange and mystical experience that Maude explains by saying that the experience that we’re having is reality, and that’s why we both recognize it, because it’s real.

This is in contrast to the idea that we each have our own reality, which is true, but outside those personal interpretations is a wider reality, and our description of it comes not from our ideas, but from that direct experience.

To have this kind of connection with someone, each person has to be both able to listen and able to look inside and show what is found. So create it by practicing both of those. Be open and listen.

Photo credit: Phil Mayes
Photo note: Mary Oliver quote and New Year’s detritus

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3 Comments on “How to Really Listen and Connect in Your Relationships

  1. When I lived in CA, my home away from home was the Ojai Foundation’s Practice of Council. Where I first had this experience of listening — a profound act, on so many levels. There’s an exquisite kind of silence; the feeling is indescribable for me of what fills up that space when you’re listening. Mary Oliver has so many wonder-filled phrases in her poems.

  2. I read your helpful blog ;and enjoyed it. Our fellowship this morning called this experience being in the Quiet. It’s a concept whose time has come, I suspect.

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