What It Means to Listen

Maybe this has gone on forever, or maybe it is a plague of our time: we scarf down the words of others into a reluctant belly, waiting for our first point of entry. Eagerly, we wait for an opening in the string of words to juxtapose theirs with our own. Or, we use language as a means of understanding and reflecting on that which is shared with us. Be it selfless or self-serving, listening is an art.

Last week, I attended a beautifully curated exhibit featuring Van Gogh and Monet’s works, alongside many other artists falling in line with mysticism, which was accompanied by an audioguide. As I walked from one wall to the next, I realized I wanted the curators in the recording to say more than they had said. I felt this because my interaction with the paintings was reflective. I would see a depiction so familiar, it would take me to a moment. These moments were like windows and the curators sounded like pensive friends. And it was then that I wondered why I consistently refused to quiet my mind for the sake of listening to those I go through life with, and truly take in what it is they are saying.

There is both so much and so little to be gained from it. It is a fine balance of patience, admiration and interest, and most importantly, an act of compassion. Listening is forgetting that you are on two different sides of the table. Stories gathered through the resistance of hasty interjection, pieced together, make a room of solace in the mind for the listener. Suddenly, you are just you and they are just them, but their words lull you into an image that you have the luck to both share, them for a second time, in the same moment.

And sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with the content and everything to do with time. How intimate of a token of affection it is to express that someone’s account demands of your time – something only you can give and that you both can never take back.

I used to find myself so filled with things to say that I would run through them like a list. When we give room for stories to unfold, we are given the opportunity to grow alongside the plot and to give of ourselves what is intangible. To listen is to walk without walking and live a story not within the breadth of our own life. It is a charming complacency without struggle and without hidden intention. I listen to you because you are breathing past life into the present before my eyes.

If you find yourself in a position to listen, do not forget that a hall of silence befriends the listener. Because in this quiet, the storyteller will always find an open door.


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