Close your eyes, then really listen. Now rinse and repeat for at least 10 minutes every day.

I carried out this simple listening exercise for one week, and now I’m in love with listening. Here’s why…

Breathing and listening

Since investing some time in exploring a little zen breath meditation, inspired by this great article entitled ‘breath’ by Leo Babuata I have discovered that focusing in on the simple act of breathing in and out, and doing nothing else, is a powerful way to relax, reboot and refocus. But listen, there’s more: using our ears for their true purpose is another simple function which, to me, seems just as potent.

Listen, and the world begins to make sense. Image courtesy of Steven Shorrock,
Image by Steven Shorrock,

Quiet the storm, let the symphony in

You could listen, perhaps whilst lying in bed or taking the train to work, picking out the individual sounds from your familiar domestic din; counting these sounds, collecting them, judging their proximity and relationship. Like the many parts of an orchestra, where each individual instrument belongs to a group, and each group combines to deliver a symphonic soundscape, so our different environments contain rich tapestries of sound. For me, investing a little time and effort in listening and understanding my world in this way performs a dual function: after listening, I find I have learned more about my environment, and when I open my eyes I see my surroundings as if for the first time. That is an enriching experience in and of itself. But I find that the simple and singular act of listening also quiets the storm of my mind; I find that conflicting thoughts, ambitions, anxieties and practicalities are temporarily shelved as I exercise my ears and the incredible mental capacity we have to translate sounds into objects and functions.

Self improvement, personal growth, getting in touch with yourself, meditation – call it what you want. Giving your ears some quality time, really using them to listen, is a true, free, unadulterated pleasure.

Listening to people

Once I had a colleague with whom I worked very closely over several years. We formed a good team for a while, but we somehow got into the habit of not listening to each other properly. So we’d ask one another to repeat what he’d just said, or just ignore a statement altogether. Inevitably this listening breakdown was not good for our working relationship, and our performance (individually and as a team) went downhill. Our boss noticed, our non-listening wasn’t good for business.

When I was growing up, a friend of mine appeared to be hard-of-hearing. He’d follow up everything people said to him with a ‘what?’. His mother was seriously worried about his hearing and sent him to a specialist. He was given an ugly and chunky hearing aid, which of course he hated. The hearing aid didn’t score well in the playground. A little while later, it was discovered that my friend, though having some slight malfunctions in one ear (owing mainly to wax buildup) in fact had less of a problem with hearing and more of an issue with listening. He began to learn to listen more carefully. The hearing aid was quickly ditched.

Today, when people don’t listen to what I’m saying or they forget something I’ve told them, I become intensely irritated. For some reason I detest having to say things twice. Yet the truth is, I’m not the greatest listener, and often have to ask people to repeat something (names in particular, I’m terrible with names) they’ve told me.

When did listening go out of fashion?

Listening, it seems to me, is going out of fashion. Listening to the environment around us, listening to good advice, listening as a sounding board for friends, listening for opportunities, even. It’s about time we cleaned out our ears and started using them, and, for me, it all starts with that one, simple ten minute exercise.

If this post inspired you, please let me know in the comments below.

Learning to listen was a Weekly Challenge. As part of My Year In Flux, I’m attempting a new challenge every single week. See what I’m up to this week and suggest a new Weekly Challenge!