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Listen


“It is not the hearing that improves life, but the listening.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Do you really listen?


To others?


To your body?


To yourself?


Listening is one of our 5 senses, and it can be a superpower. It continually gives us information about our environment. It can help us to determine what time of day it is, from the chirping of the birds in the morning to the quiet stillness of night. It can tell us where we are, seagulls at the beach, traffic noises in town or the distinctive sounds of the countryside. It can tell us about the weather, the rumble of thunder, the patter of rain on the roof. It can alert us to danger, the noise of an approaching vehicle, or a ringing alarm.


Listening can give us great pleasure and entertainment, keeping up to date with news via the radio, building our knowledge through podcasts or enjoying a good story with audiobooks. Music can breathe life into any situation. Listening to music can be invigorating, cathartic and relaxing. Music therapy is an established psychological intervention.


Listening can also cement our relationships. Being read to as a child provides a comforting memory and builds a loving bond between parent and child. Listening to our friends is both supportive for them and beneficial for us, we feel we have done them a good service and we receive the same when we need it. Spending time talking with our partner can be as important as the more intimate side of the relationship. Memories, hopes, fears and dreams will all be shared if we are prepared to listen. During conversations we can consider whether we are listening or whether we are too busy in framing our own reply to really hear what has been said. If we listen with compassion and interest, we foster nourishing relationships and build up strong resilient social networks that will support us should the need arise.


Listening to our body is vital. This is more than noting the creaking of joints or the rattle of congestion in our chest. It is about listening when our body tells us we are tired and need to rest, when we are hungry and when we are satisfied, when we are off balance or when an activity has become too much. It forms part of our intuition and tells us whether we feel at ease or not in any situation. We discuss this in detail in the following article:

How to Love your Body


When we communicate, listening to the tone of voice and the words others use gives us valuable information about their intentions and sometimes their state of mind. It is possible to hear a smiling kindness in the tone and this can take away the sting of unpleasant news. In the same way anger and disappointment can ring clearly. When the tone of voice does not match the words, again, we are afforded information, and such passive aggressive comments and contaminated messages say more about the speaker than anyone else (we talk about how to deal with contaminated messages in an earlier article.)

How to Challenge Contaminated Communications


We might also listen to ourselves; both when we are speaking to others and when we are speaking to the self. Are we the ones judging or using contaminated messages? What does this say about us? What is driving this?

We talk about clearly speaking your own truth here:

How to Speak your Truth


When we truly listen to what we are saying to ourselves we may well pick up on repetitive negative messages. Such messages reinforce negative core beliefs and perpetuate negative cognitive behavioural cycles. Rather than let these run in the background, when we hear them we are wise to challenge them. This involves analysis of the message. Is there evidence for it or against it? Is it a meaningful message that nourishes, or a harmful message that drains? What would be a more appropriate message? Remember that what we want to hear and what we need to hear may be different.


We can invoke the power of listening to help us in our mindful practice. Remember that mindfulness is, to quote Jon Kabat Zinn, “paying attention, on purpose, in the moment without judgement.” If we take the time to fully listen to the sounds in our immediate environment, we are paying attention to what is happening in the present moment. Worries about the future and ruminations about the past can be put aside as we focus on what we are hearing right now.


Try this:


Find a quiet comfortable spot

Sit with your spine straight

And your feet planted on the ground

Close your eyes

Take 3 deep breaths

Centre yourself


Imagine roots

Emerging from the soles of your feet

Anchoring you to the ground

And connecting you to the Earth


Visualise a silver thread

Connecting you

To the vastness of the cosmos

And with each breath

Feel any tension leave your body


Now listen


What can you hear?

Allow the different sounds in your environment

To register

What is the source of the sound?

Once you have identified it

Give it a label

And then let it go

If thoughts about the past

Or present surface

Gently draw your attention

Back to listening

Keep your breaths

Deep and even

In through the nose

And out through the mouth

Allow the sounds around you

To fade in and out

Notice how the sounds change

If there are no environmental sounds

Then focus on the sound

Of your breathing

The nasal inhalation

And the whoosh of your exhalation

You may be able to hear

Your heartbeat

Slow and regular

Spend as long as you need to


Simply listening


When you are ready, gently bring yourself back to full awareness with a renewed feeling of calm and peace.


For more mindfulness exercises try ‘How to Rise – A Complete Resilience Manual’

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