Archive for November 21st, 2009

Poet William Longfellow wrote: ” Listening is the rarest of events among human beings”. When he wrote that life was nowhere near as frenetic as it is today.

With distractions mounting daily, it’s a wonder we listen at all. Add to this the qualitatively different forms of  listening and we at once begin to see both the clear and more subtle shifts in our modes of  listening. As in all things, a closer look at phenomena brings into sharper relief the variations that at a molar level may go unnoticed.

For example, how many forms of snow can we name?

Just bringing our attention to the question reveals the considerable variety that we experience, each different in how we relate to it.  There is the light fluffy stuff, and the heavier, large flakes, good packing snow, and the states of slush, fine powder, sleet, drifting, flurry, blizzard, ground blizzard or blowing snow, snow pellets, and hoar-frost. In a similar vein, I considered the varieties of silence in an earlier post.

Listening also varies across an intriguing spectrum of quality, mood, texture, depth and focus.

For starters, eight come to mind today along with a poetic allusion to their texture and color:

Split-screen listening [tile, gray]:

This is another kind of multi-tasking during which we appear to be listening, good eye contact and head-nodding, while actually mulling over unrelated issues or performing other tasks. The listener experiences this as an intermittent reception keeping comments general enough  to not betray his or her loss of the thread, and to reassure the speaker. It is often seen by the speaker as half-presence and disingenuity.

Anxious listening [knotted, dark blue with red accents]:

At times, we listen with nervous energy, tempted as the other speaks to interrupt with questions, deflect the conversation another way. Inner tensions revolving around some negative expectation or worry distract us. As a result, we may also, be bleeding a great deal of energy away from being present as we anticipate what to say next.

Fearful listening [ torn thick knitting, black]:

Very similar to anxious listening, the fearful mode is distinguished by a readiness to defend, counter-punch, argue, or dodge critique or personally challenging commentary.

Romantic/ devotional  listening [ satin, American Rose] :

This form of listening is the opposite of anxious. It is highly focused and undistracted. All concentration is on one’s beloved. We become entranced with listening to his/her voice, mannerisms, physical features, eyes, and expressions. All else in the surrounding landscape is out of focus and trivial by comparison.

Critical/argumentative listening [metallic, rosewood]:

Like romantic listening, this mode of attention is very focused, but instead of being watchful for that which attracts and enchants, the focus is on finding the blemishes, the omissions, errors of reasoning, and points about which we disagree.  It often combines with anxious or fearful type listening.

Appreciative listening [ wicker, red violet]:

This is a close cousin of romantic  listening, but is less passionate and emotional. It is typified by high order of vigilance with priority given to things being said that delight us, with which we agree or about which we offer encouragement, positive regard, and celebration.

Expectant listening [glossy, smooth, phthalo green]:

In listening expectantly, we are listening not in the here and now, but instead are anticipating and predicting where the speaker is going with his/her commentary. It is projective listening and tends to be marked by frequent declarative statements from the listener who attempts to leap ahead to the presumed end point of the speakers narrative.

Political listening [ canvas, camouflage green]:

In listening with a political ear, we orient toward retro-fitting the speaker’s comments, as we hear them, to set the stage for a redirection to a set of talking points that we are intent to communicate. This is the “staying on message” directive of political operatives.

In discursive private and communal prayer, we aren’t listening at all. We are  asking, telling and/or praising, and one wonders how the Spirit can “get a word in edgewise”. Mindful, then, of the various textures and modes of listening, it is a useful practice for me to tune into the changing face of my listening ( i.e., to ” listen to my listening”) and assess its character, breadth, depth, focus and intent.

What are the variances in your own listening, and how do you experience them as distinct ways of being with another?

The meditation that accompanies this practice focuses on the question:

Who is it that is listening when I turn my gaze toward doing so, to whom am I listening, and for what?

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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