How To Be A Better Listener:

To Others. To Your Own Soul. To God.

On Feb 20, Seeking the Spirit Within is hosting an online retreat. Terri Storer, a Certified Spiritual Director, will be leading a session on how to listen deeply. You’ll get to practice the skill and learn its importance for your life. Here is some of what Terri will be offering.

There have been times in my life when I’ve thought IF ONLY the world would just stop for a while . . . let me breathe . . . let me catch up. Then, I finally realized that I can’t make the world stop, yet I can step back / retreat from the world . . . if only for a little while. 

You have that opportunity for some hours on Feb 20.

You’ll be enriched by Bishop Maas’ presence and teaching; you’ll come to a new awareness of your breathing and your body; you’ll welcome all that is coming into your life; you’ll draw near the Divine and yourself through Lectio Divina and centering prayer; and you’ll be invited to consider what will grow here – in this place and time. 

You’ll learn some new skills for deep listening. Listening with your heart and soul.

Types of deep listening

In her book, Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening, Kay Lindahl describes “the qualities of silence, reflection, and heart listening are key to opening up the space for another person to be in deep conversation with us. . . . Connecting at this heart level touches us and leaves us in awe and reverence.” (p 76) Lindahl invites us to practice daily to become a listening presence

In fact, throughout the day’s retreat you’ll practice three types of deep listening . . . 

  • You’ll listen to God through contemplative listening in silence and stillness 
  • You’ll listen to yourself through reflective listening as you slow down, listening inwardly to your mind, body, and soul
  • You’ll listen to one another through heart listening, connecting at a deeper level

Brene Brown, in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, defines “connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” 

Kay Lindahl is committed to listening and she states: “Two ways to counteract the feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness that often accompany this type of uncertainty (in the world and in our lives) are conversation and collective reflection… We have an unspoken yearning for community, for being with others, for feeling that our lives matter… The simple yet profound act of listening to each other opens the door to connection, understanding, and transformation.” (p ix) 

She goes on to say, “Learning to truly listen to one another is the beginning of new understanding and compassion, which deepens and broadens our sense of community. Listening is the first step in making people feel valued. (p 4)”

I sense there is a yearning for this deep connection of heart listening to one another. I don’t know about you, but I don’t often find these types of deep conversations in the outer world. 

Some conversations can be superficial, some are filled with personal agendas, and some conversations may start as a discussion with hope of resolving a problem, but may devolve into a debate.  

Learn deeper listening by being part of a committed group

Last June, as the pandemic moved in, I felt led to create a virtual group we called Compassionate Conversations: Pause and Prayer. The group provides an opportunity to “retreat and pause” in a safe place to connect with the Divine, ourselves, and to each other in deep listening once a week. 

This type of heart listening is also about hospitality: offering space where change can take place, where there is freedom for each person to be who they are. We become fully present to one another, we let go of our own agendas, setting aside distractions, and, as Lindahl calls it, we exercise the muscle of listening to others. 

These types of conversations don’t just happen. Deep listening takes focused intention. We adopted Kay Lindahl’s Principles of Dialogue. Lindahl defines dialogue as an open-ended conversation of exploration and inquiry. It is a flowing of words and meanings to seek mutual understanding. A dialogue is open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. 

Here are Lindahl’s 9 Principles of Dialogue

Lindahl developed The Principles of Dialogue to help create a safe space for sharing and reminds us to stay in the present moment. The process fosters trust and respect. 

These principles will be part of this online retreat and are already posted on the retreat website. To briefly recap, they include the following: 

  1. When you are listening, suspend assumptions. 
  2. When you are speaking, speak for yourself using “I” language. 
  3. Listen and speak without judgment.
  4. Suspend status
  5. Honor confidentiality
  6. Listen for understanding, not agreement or belief. 
  7. Ask clarifying or open-ended questions to assist your understanding. 
  8. Honor silence and time for reflection. 
  9. One person speaks at a time. 

The benefits of a listening group include . . . 

The gift of Compassionate Conversations for participants has been a safe space for sharing; learning and engaging in dialogue; and being present to God, to ourselves, and to others. We extend grace and compassion to ourselves and to each other. We are finding comfort, acceptance, belonging, honesty, and gratitude in our conversations. We are “hearing” ourselves into new understanding of our own story. 

It is in exploring and discovering our inner truth that we can and do make a difference, not only within the conversation but also in our relationships, in our way of being in the world.  

Our group, Compassionate Conversations: Pause and Prayer, isn’t unique. There are other groups out there. Other variations may be Compassion Circles, Listening Circles, connection and prayer, some may focus on a theme such as grieving, self-compassion, racial justice, inclusion and diversity, etc. 

A spiritual director may be able to help guide you to create one. A model Compassionate Conversations: Pause and Prayer group format will be available on the retreat website for your use. The Principles of Dialogue are included in the model and there is a separate Principles of Dialogue handout posted with greater detail. I will also post a Holy Listening Exercise in Pairs for spiritual friends.  

You’re invited to try this deep, honest listening 

At the upcoming retreat, the small group exercise will be to practice Heart Listening in Groups which is the core of Compassionate Conversations. This exercise will be posted on the retreat website. 

Dialogue may feel awkward as we experience it at first. It is a countercultural way of speaking and listening. It takes practice. I encourage you to seek ways to practice being in dialogue in your daily conversations. 

Are you ready to deepen your ability to listen? This develops our ability to listen to God, to our own inner stirrings, and to each other. What better gift can you give yourself and those around you? 

Join us online to practice Sacred Listening! 

Terri Storer, Certified Spiritual Director

Quoted sources:
Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening by Kay Lindahl
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

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