“.. people don’t do a lot of listening”

said journalist Ellen Fanning in an article I found in The Sunday Life magazine last year.

“You sit at dinner with people and you know they are thinking what next to say, waiting for a pause to say the next thing … but it’s quite lovely to discipline yourself to not think like that: to wait, to listen, to see what the other person might tell you”.

Recently I was discussing just this with a meditation student.

We had just finished a Mindfulness of Listening practice, which is quite a challenging practice to get a handle on .. in the main because we are confronted almost immediately with our constantly chattering mind-stream and our habit of inwardly discussing (and judging) everything that is happening around and within us.

In Mindfulness of Listening we begin to cultivate an ability to sit with the constantly changing, distracting and engaging soundscape around us and just observe ‘sound’ as one might the clouds passing across the sky. Learning to sit with sound ‘just as sound’ is a great lesson in being present and aware of the present moment. and we build an ability to meditate out in the real world .. without being overly distracted by the kids next door at 2am playing AC/DC, the dog yapping all night or the neighbour mowing his lawn on Sunday morning.

When in conversation with someone, rather than listening, more often it is our habit to hear the first few words and then divert our attention to our internal analysis, judgement and formulation of response.

‘me next, me next, me next’ says our ego mind

And that ‘louder’ internal voice pulls us away from the unfolding of the other persons thoughts .. the real crux of the matter, the nuances and subtleties – drowned out or twisted by the importance of our own view and voice.

I learnt this lesson in my corporate recruitment career working with one of our industry elite who one day shared with me, the secret of his success


He meant both verbally and mentally .. shut up!

Because what happens when we shut up and totally engage in another person .. is that they open and reveal. By becoming the ‘Observer’ we remain anchored in the present moment and in that vacuum of silence (inner and outer) people reveal and we truly hear. Then we are more likely to witness the quiet subtleties of another person’s language, their subconscious gestures and facial expressions, the shifts in energy, glimpses of emotion and meaningful looks.

In the book Planetwalker: How to Change Your World One Step at a Time, John Francis (American eco-activist) writes that;

“Most of my adult life I have not been listening fully. I only listened long enough to determine whether the speaker’s ideas matched my own. If they didn’t, I would stop listening, and my mind would race ahead to compose an argument against what I believed the speaker’s idea or position to be”.

“Silence is not just not talking. It’s a void. It’s a place where all things come from. All voices, all creation comes out of this silence. So when you’re standing on the edge of silence, you hear things you’ve never heard before, and you hear things you’ve never heard before, and you hear things in ways you’ve never heard them before”.

So, our intention is not simply to listen but to hear.

When next in conversation .. see if you can give 100% of your awareness and attention to the person talking. Also, see if you can hold a comfortable place for silence to be present as well, a spaciousness that allows the person to continue with their train of thought .. before then taking a breath and considering your response.