Every month, Birthing From Within sends a letter to our membership and the public, containing our reflections on happenings in birth, in the world at large, and in our organization. See a collection of our monthly letters on the blog here; sign up to receive our newsletters directly in your inbox.
As the United States finds itself in the midst of both a pandemic and a movement for racial justice, it seems that a much-needed gift during this time is the art of deep listening. In our highly individualistic culture with ever-shrinking attention spans and radically differing personal experiences and intersections of privilege, cultivating a practice of deep listening probably requires more unlearning than learning.
The patterns of communication that we see and internalize often involve comparing, offering advice, one-upping, cheerleading, or invalidating. While these behaviors are often executed with good intentions, they center the listener and not the speaker. They shift the focus to the listener’s story – the listener feeling validated – the listener feeling comforted. Yes, even cheerleading is ultimately about the listener’s desire to avoid the feelings of discomfort and helplessness that another person’s pain can bring up, or their desire to stay in rapport by trying to make the speaker “feel better.”
We ask the birth professionals in the Mindful Communication 101 class what other people do that made them truly feel heard. They talk about attentive body language, physical proximity, eye contact, and emotional investment. They also talk about curiosity and silence.
When a listener brings a sense of curiosity to a dialogue, they demonstrate that they are interested in understanding others, not in just being understood.
They are able to set aside their beliefs, assumptions, and ideas in service to the goal of understanding another person’s perspective. They are more invested in finding out what makes the other person tick than they are in being right, or in being considered helpful.
Curiosity naturally leads to a more open heart, and it also leads to more open space in a dialogue.
A deep listener understands that there is power in silence.
Silence gives space to think, reflect, absorb, and digest. It helps give meaning to a conversation, just as the pauses in music help give shape to a song.
If you’re interested in growing your listening skills, you might try listening within to your own choir of voices offering judgment, feedback, defensiveness, or love to the different scenarios that come up throughout your day, without making any of those voices right or wrong. You could try eating meals in silence, or noticing the sounds of nature as you go for a walk or rest beneath a tree. You can try a listening exercise with a friend or loved one where you ask them a question, listen attentively, and then say nothing but “thank you,” or “I hear you,” in response.
You might notice the tension that comes with not offering consolation, advice, or commiseration, and…if you sit with it long enough…you’ll also notice that the tension releases, much like a labor contraction. If we’re willing to breathe through the discomfort of silence, we find that on the other side we’re blessed with the gifts of increased space to think and process, less compulsion to fill every moment with words, and a deeper nonverbal connection with those we’re in relation with, including ourselves.
May you feel listened to, acknowledged, and held, beginning as always from within.