Listening in order to listen

Think about the last time you listened to someone. I mean really, truly listened–not to respond, not to advise, not to fix. Only to listen.

Learning to listen

During the first two months of my spiritual guidance training, I’ve learned about listening in order to listen, not advise, act, or respond. Listening in order to listen is important, difficult, and awe-inspiring work.

Photo by Pexabay. "Compassion - Listening - Witnessing" by johnhain.

Last month we started to work in pairs with our fellow trainees. One person was the spiritual guide, and one person was the seeker. I was assigned to be the guide, and it was the first time I ever guided someone in a spiritual direction session. I was nervous and excited.

In training, we talked and we continue to learn about how to guide a session. And even though we’re just starting to practice our skills, I was concerned that I wouldn’t know what to do, what to ask, or how to respond.

Then I remembered the main goal of being a spiritual guide: Stay in the present and listen.

Listening involves noticing nuances and drawing on other academic skills

So, I started the session with my “seeker.” Despite my nerves and feeling like an imposter, I was surprised at how I drew on my teaching and research skills when I was serving as a spiritual guide.

I didn’t struggle to stay in the present, which I was worried about. I held my seeker’s story and noticed body language and energy. I picked up on nuances that I then raised up as questions for the seeker to ponder.

I do those same things when I work with students and research participants and when I analyze data.

At first, I thought my academic skills would work against me. After all, as academics, we’re trained to analyze, identify problems, and seek solutions. We’re trained to react and act. That’s the opposite of listening.

But much to my pleasant surprise, serving as a spiritual director was energizing and sort of familiar.

How often do we really listen?

As I reflected on that experience last month, I wondered how often we truly listen in our academic life. When I’m with students or research participants, I now catch myself thinking about what I’m going to say next.

So often we listen to react–and then we act without having listened.

I’m starting to catch myself, but like anything else, it takes practice and intention.

But I keep wondering: What would happen if we would listen to learn more? What if we listened to hold people’s stories? What if we listened to better understand? What if we listened to lift up? What if we listened to listen? How might our teaching and research change?

Questions to ponder

  • How do you listen as a teacher?
  • How do you listen as a researcher?
  • How do you listen as a colleague?
  • How do you listen as a reader?
  • How do you listen as a writer?
  • What would it look like to listen to listen in all of these roles?


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