Today I was re-reading one of my favorite tales from the book “A Monastery Within: Tales From The Buddhist Path”. The story is short so I will share it in full.

A young woman from another country moved with her family to live for one year in a town near the monastery. When in a course of a year she discovered a monastery, she would periodically visit to have discussions with the Abbess. The Abbess introduced her to meditation, which became very meaningful for a young woman.

When the family’s year-long stay was drawing to an end, the young woman asked the Abbess, ‘In my country there is no Buddhism and no one has even heard about meditation. How can I continue to lean and deepen the practice you have started me on?’

The Abbess said, ‘When you return home ask far and wide for who, among the wise people, is recognized as having the greatest ability to listen. Ask that person to instruct you in the art of listening. What you learn about listening from such a person will teach you how to further your meditation practice.’

I’ve been thinking about the art of listening over the last few days after a serious fight I had with my very close friend. In the midst of the conflict, he said something that came to me like a thunder. ‘Alex, you are not listening. You are reading my words but not listening.’

Of course, I was too emotional at that moment to understand what he meant. I was focused on my feelings, my thoughts, I tried to convince, to be heard but did I try to listen? On the next day, I calmed down and re-read our conversation this time with intention to listen. To be honest, what seemed so dark to me yesterday now looked much better, I found sense in the words that only yesterday could easily hurt me.

Yes, it is sometimes extremely hard to hear and understand a friend or a partner during the conflict since emotions shape our perceptions and cause us to misread what they are saying. At the same time, one of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. I can never really understand him until I consider things from his point of view.

The opposite of listening is waiting to speak. I know my own opinion, my wants, and my needs, but do I know my friend’s? Did I have an intention to listen and understand or did I want to speak up?

As Ursula K. Le Guin said in one of her essays, ‘Listening is not a reaction, it is a connection. Listening to a conversation or a story, we don’t so much respond as join in — become part of the action.’

Genuine listening is giving a person my open-minded, wholehearted attention. To be able to fully accept a contrary opinion. Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.

Listening is magnetic. When we are listened to, it makes us unfold and expand. The first duty of love is to listen and often it is the best thing we can do for a loved one. 💛

P.S. Becoming a better listener starts with intention, takes effort and, most importantly, patience.

We are the stories we tell to ourselves.