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Active Listening

21st April, 2015 Miscellaneous
My English Club

When you listen generously to people they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time.

Rachel Naomi Remen

When my granddaughter was very young and I used to stay overnight with them, I could actually feel her listening through the wall in the morning to see if I was awake. Her concentration and the quality of her listening were so intense it reached out and touched me. So, when a dear friend starting forwarding me thoughts for the day on listening by the wonderful Rachel Naomi Remen (see, it crystallised something that had been flitting through my mind. We all need to be heard. To be accepted without judgement. Without criticism, applied, implied or unspoken. Without the listener jumping to conclusions. Without interpretation and most especially without the misunderstanding that occurs because the listener thinks they know what we’re going to say and doesn’t listen to what we do say. So, no anticipation. Staying in the moment. And most definitely we need to be heard with compassion and genuine interest.Nothing is nicer

I want to acknowledge and thank Kyrin Moreton for being that person who listens, unconditionally and with great love, to me. Her quality of listening is the same as my young granddaughter’s was. Her insights are offered with humility, never thrust upon me. But the insights are always spot on. I treasure her friendship but how much more do I value her hearing me and giving voice to what I cannot say for myself.

Our listening creates a sanctuary for the homeless parts within another person.

Rachel Naomi Remen

How different to the friend who, when I’d been virtually blind and utterly disorientated and dizzy for six months and voiced that I was getting very tired of living said, ‘but you have so much still to give to others. You can’t leave now.’ Maybe. But it didn’t feel like that to me. I needed something to come back to me, to have someone say ‘I hear how you feel.’ It was the same with the guy who told me to get a minder when I said I needed to postpone a workshop that involved a flight. Given that I couldn’t walk outside the front door without help at the time it was insensitive at the very least and he clearly did not understand those words ‘dizzy, disorientated and almost blind.’ His mind was fixed on the fact that he’d organised a workshop and I was meant to be there. When I relayed this to a friend her response was ‘sounds like a case of the poor me’s to me. Your victim mentality is showing.’ That’s what she was hearing. But was it what I was feeling? She gave the same response when I said I’d been waiting three days for someone to bring me the milk he’d promised to pick up on his way home and drop in the next morning. Was that really being a victim? My daughter had been great, taking me shopping and to and from the hospital. But this had seemed such a simple request to someone who’d said ‘let me know if you need anything.’ He clearly didn’t here ‘run out of milk’, or if he did didn’t interpret that as ‘she needs it now.’ Other people said ‘how wonderful to have all that time to meditate.’ Hup? Meditate. I couldn’t even hear myself think let alone switch off the dizziness in my mind. I was utterly lost. Only Kyrin threw me a lifebuoy giving me both her listening ears and one of her C.Ds so that gradually, little by little, I could find my way back.

“Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing.”

Rachel Naomi Remen

I remember my very first counselling tutor saying something that I have always held onto: ‘Your client knows. They will tell you, over and over again until you hear it. It may be hidden because they may not know that they know themselves. But they do, and sooner or later they will speak it, and repeat and repeat it until you hear it. Respect that and be ready to catch it. You may be the one that reflects it back to them but they are the one who knows.’

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”

Rachel Naomi Remen


Listening strategies

listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self. Dean Jackson

Can you learn to listen if you’re not a natural listener? Yes I think we can. When I was looking up listening on line I found L.I.S.T.E.N which seemed to sum up the key points rather nicely. I’ve even applied it to listening to things I never thought would interest me. They still may not, but that the person sharing their thoughts with me is passionate about it may be intriguing enough to keep my ears working. It makes me wonder, am I missing something? My eyes will always glaze over when it comes to sport, notwithstanding that my zodiac sign is supposed to be one of the most sporty of all. But I have learned fascinating facts about things I never knew I could be interested in. Probably because the person speaking made it interesting. Which, of course, makes active listening much easier.

Boredom is an anathema to Sag. We’d probably die of boredom before anything else. Overwork, stress? We can deal with that. But bore us. Oh no. That’s torture in the extreme. When I listen to Desert Island Discs I always think that, after I’d played my however many records, had a swim, read my books (not the Bible and Shakespeare thank you, I’ve them through twice already) and searched the island for crystals I wouldn’t think of building a shelter or even finding food unless it was under my nose. If there was no sign of rescue I’d sit down, go into meditation and leave. In spirit at least and ultimately my body would perish alone in the sand. I’d be off on another great adventure.


Being in a writing group has been a great help to learning to listen and keep quiet until it is time to speak and share gentle constructive criticism – not that our rambunctious group is terribly disciplined, too many robust characters for that. But we have agreed to let the reading be uninterrupted and the comments be made by one person at a time. We find it works better that way. I find listening to all the different styles and topics of writing invigorating. I’m rarely bored. The visitor who made their life into a list provoked the Sag in me, but as she’d lived in Sierra Leone where I’d been during the civil war, I went back into my memories and did some much needed healing for myself. So in the end I thanked her, inwardly at least. I don’t think she noticed my inattention or that my neighbour had a book open on his lap (fortunately we sit around a table). One person was listening avidly and that seemed to be enough for her.

Listening to reply

The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.Are you prone to this one? I know I am. I am a Sagittarius with a lot of Gemini in my chart after all (and if you don’t know what that means, why not come to our astrological week Greece in May and find out). Talking and communicating comes more naturally to me than listening. When I’m facilitating workshops and someone asks a question I have to remind myself to pay deep attention to what the person is asking, not to constructing what I want to say in reply. It’s all too easy to slip into getting a point across. I also have a terrible habit, which I still haven’t cured, of anticipating what someone is going to say and finishing their sentences. It may be psychic but it’s neither polite nor therapeutic. Although it did once get me a book deal. Yes, offering a word to someone who is struggling to express themselves can be helpful at the right moment. But it’s not something I want to be doing all the time. Unless of course I’m talking with one of my friends who communicates in the same way. We can have shorthand conversations and completely understand each other and enjoy a great laughs along the way.

Intuitive listening

WARNING I'm not ListeningBut listening works in other ways. I have to ask myself, do I listen enough to what is coming to me? Do I follow my inner voice? I was told by several people that I was doing too much. I didn’t agree. I carried on. And hit a dead badger head on with the front of my car. I didn’t see it. I was in a dual stream of traffic on a dark road, with an idiot to my left who wouldn’t let me move into the nearside lane. I had one eye on him and one on the car in front. The oncoming lights were dazzling and, even if I had spotted something lying in the road, there was nowhere to go. I had a crash barrier on my right and the idiot on the left. I felt a rumbling thud but carried on. Had I braked there would have been a horrendous accident. We were all doing 70mph at the time. No one else seemed to have a problem. Did it just manifest in front of me? There were seven dead badgers on that particular stretch of road the next morning. Makes you wonder doesn’t it. Why, what were they doing?

When I got home I saw that the bumper and radiator grill were cracked. A very small, insignificant crack. Or so it seemed. In the morning when I took it to the guys down the road and they took the grill off, we found that the bottom was stove in, a metal strengthening bar was now V-shaped, and the radiator fins shattered. And that’s all we could see apart from a few badger hairs. There was no indication where the badger went. I’m still waiting to hear the verdict from the insurance company. But the guy who picked it up reckoned it would soon be back as good as new.

Badger symbolism

Naturally I looked up the symbolism of badger on my favourite www.what’s-your-sign site. There was nothing about dead badgers. I found a little on another site that seemed relevant:

As I walked down the path in front of the house to where it touches the corner of the streambed leading to the well – I faced death on my pathway.  A dead badger lay curled on the edge of the streambed and stopped me dead in my tracks. Just before I took my walk, I had a short, impromtu skype chat about the importance of tending and protecting times of transition with care.  Somehow this was connected. What was the Totem-meaning of Badger – and what did it mean that it now lay dead at the front of my home? … When we do come to the point of facing death – of any kind – be it thought-form, value, person, place, relationship, etc – it shocks us to our core.  Yet, as we embrace the death and start to move beyond this – there awaits the presence of Compassion, Universal Love and a connection to knowing and insight only available from being stopped dead by death.

Read more of this blog on:

So I took to heart the message about tending times of transition with care and needing roots and rituals that the writer identifies. I decided to return to the symbolism of live ones to see what else I could learn. It began with a picture:

"Those who are firm in will, mold the world to themselves." Goethe

Oh really? It felt more like I was unmolding my world. Shattering it. Although I had glanced earlier at a second hand jeep that would have been more suitable than my Ka for carting around boxes of crystals and books – and for going crystal hunting in the Welsh mountains – I dearly love my Ka. And the part of my life that works best is my teaching.

So I carried on reading, was this a message to me or to all those people who were telling me to slow down? I feel like I have a certain job to do and I want to do it while I’m still fit enough to travel around. By next year I’ll have done my three score year and ten and I may want to stay home more. People can come to me then. But for now, I think I’ll listen to Badger and not let anything stop me in my tracks. Here’s what the whats’my’sign site has to say:

‘The badger stops at nothing to get what it wants, and this is a lesson for us to be persistent in our pursuits. Specifically, those with the badger totem often attract this creature because he/she has difficulty finishing what is started. The badger will help with this aspect in life. You can call upon the stubborn, strong-willed nature of the badger to help you complete any project you start.

The badger is also fiercely independent and can be quite aggressive when threatened. This is a lesson for us to stand our ground and make our presence known when the situation calls for it. Although smaller in stature, the badger commands attention from friend and foe alike. We can do the same, but we must be mindful that we do so in a healthy, constructive manner.

Animal Symbolism of the Badger

  • Determination
  • Eagerness
  • Strong will
  • Focus
  • Strategy
  • Tenacity
  • Defense
  • Protection
  • Independence
  • Confidence

The badger is connected to the earth, and therefore is a grounding totem for us. When we feel out of touch, or confused the badger can help us get rooted, and anchor us to what is important in our lives.

When the badger comes into our lives it is time for get busy with projects, speak up and ask for help if we need it in our lives. The badger is also a sign that it is time for us come out of hiding – it’s time for us to let the world know we are here, and we mean business!

Lastly, the symbolism of the badger also includes individuality. The badger is a unique creature, well equipped to meet all the challenges it faces. It lives its life quite effectively. And although its methods might seem unorthodox, the badger doesn’t care what the rest of the animal kingdom thinks about them. This is perhaps the greatest lesson the badger imparts to us. In short, the badger tell us to “walk your own path at your own pace.” Never mind what others may say. Have faith in your own abilities and know that you are well-equipped to take on whatever challenge faces you.’

And finally

Something else that has been occurring to me again and again lately. This sums up very neatly the difference between ‘fixing/helping/enabling’ and being there for someone:

 “Many times when we help we do not really serve. . . . Serving is also different from fixing. One of the pioneers of the Human Potential Movement, Abraham Maslow, said, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ Seeing yourself as a fixer may cause you to see brokenness everywhere, to sit in judgment of life itself. When we fix others, we may not see their hidden wholeness or trust the integrity of the life in them. Fixers trust their own expertise. When we serve, we see the unborn wholeness in others; we collaborate with it and strengthen it. Others may then be able to see their wholeness for themselves for the first time.”

Rachel Naomi Remen

Let’s all celebrate how perfect we – and everyone else – is in this present moment. Let’s celebrate our aliveness, our tenacity and our wholeness. Let’s not beat ourselves up for our perceived flaws, our failings, nor continually feel the need to scour off all the unacceptable parts of ourself. Let’s recognise the best in everyone, especially our Self. And remind ourselves listen to words and what lies behind them, not what we think is being said or the answer we think we should give. Let’s simply offer the gift of being heard…

Thanks For Listening

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