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True Sympathetic Listening

This article is based on what I learned from Scott Kiloby in his book titled “Natural Rest for Addiction”.  In Chapter 5 he discusses relationships and he explains that relationships are not only between people but between absolutely everything we encounter in life.  

Within Chapter 5 there is a subchapter titled “Taking the Perspective of Others”.  I want to share what I learned from it with you, as I think it’s quick and easy to practice and valuable.  It will allow you to be more present and kind to anyone you encounter.

What is Presence? 

First, let me define my definition of “presence”. Presence is being awake and alert and allowing what is to be exactly as it is without wanting to change it.  

So with presence, we listen to others from silence.  This means we are allowing and accepting what the other is saying without judgment.  This allows us to listen fully to what the other person is saying.  This allows us to listen compassionately, which the other person will feel.  

The Practice

When you speak with your partner, friend, or a complete stranger, imagine yourself to be a blank screen (blank canvas) and allow that person to paint their picture on your screen with their words.  

Allow yourself to become their story.  Put yourself 100% in their position.   If your ego/mind tries to make comments, give advice, judge, or go against what the person is saying, kindly say “Thank you.” and come back to being 100% in their position.  

We listen from nonjudgmental silence.  Our interest is viewing through the eyes and heart of the person who is speaking.   At that moment, we lose our self-centeredness and become that person.

Allow the speaker’s words to become the movie in your mind.  If the speaker’s story is bright or dark, positive or negative, comfortable or very painful, allow it to be.  Remember,  if your ego/mind tries to make comments, give advice, judge, or go against what the person is saying, kindly say “Thank you.” and come back to being 100% in their story/movie.

Be the movie screen for the speaker’s projector.  See everything from their point of view.  We imagine ourselves in their shoes.  

Challenging Ways to Practice True Sympathetic Listening

Examples of conversations with people who have opposing opinions and values to your own

  • Your romantic partner, especially when there is a dispute between you.
  • Any person (especially a family member) who is speaking about something that deeply irritates you.
  • A child that is crying/screaming – although you might not be able to talk with them, you can listen and allow them to be emotional without trying to shut them up or change them.
  • A person who believes in something that is the exact opposite of what you believe – for example, you are Buddhist and the person you are speaking with is a Christian who tells you that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you will go to hell.  
  • If you are heterosexual and listen to your gay friend talk about their love life, or vice-versa.
  • If you are 30 years old and listening to an 80-year-old talk about the past, or vice-versa.
  • If you are a motivated person who is in great shape and listening to a person who is overweight and unhealthy complain about how hard it is to be motivated to exercise and eat nutritious food.

Why is this Practice Valuable? 

  • It can radically change our life
  • It allows us to be present and accept what is
  • It allows us to be deeply compassionate for the person who is speaking
    • Most people don’t truly listen to each other
  • It allows us to let go of being self-centered, self-absorbed, and narcissistic
  • It lets us go from needing to be heard or be right
  • It opens us up to experiencing life from many different perspectives
  • It’s available to us many times every day 

Conclusion

Speaking with others is something most of us do throughout our days.  The practice of True Sympathetic Listening is something that will transform your life if you practice it.  It also transforms the person that is speaking as they will know, or at least sense, that you are truly listening to them.  They will feel your acceptance and love.  

It is a form of living meditation where you are “present” in the moment and “being” the other person.   With enough practice, it will awaken in you a “knowing” that only “thought” separates us.  Without “thought” and without “self-centeredness” we share the same reality.  There is no separation.  

If what I shared here speaks to you, and you would like to have a conversation with me, I invite you to a 60-minute complimentary conversation here.  

Yours, 

Bodhi