The Joy of Listening

“You’re not listening to me.”

“You are not hearing what I am saying.”

“I feel like no one understands me.”

Have you ever said any of those things while trying to tell someone what happened to you? You’re trying to tell your story and you can see by the other person’s body language that they are not listening.

Either they are waiting to interrupt and tell you that they had a similar experience; or they want to tell you what you should do; or they are more interested in looking at their phone.

You feel unheard, invalidated and frustrated. A stranger on a plane or a psychologist might listen more. Perhaps that’s why there are so many counselors and psychologists out there; because sometimes people that are close to us don’t listen with both ears any more.

I have noticed this phenomenon for a long time. I’ve experienced it myself, and I wondered why nobody listens. When I was younger I remember sitting around the table after a meal with family, aunts, uncles, cousins, and everyone was telling stories and talking about their lives. Each person would put in his two cents worth and at the end of it, people would go away feeling understood and appreciated.

We don’t sit around the table chatting any more. We don’t tell stories to real live people- we tell them to the psychologist or some faceless person on the Internet. And when we do talk face to face with the people in our lives, we are so busy thinking of what we will say next that we don’t listen to what they are actually saying.

We don’t communicate much any more and that creates a whole lot of loneliness and misunderstanding. We need to have compassion. To have compassion is to be concerned with the suffering of other people and wanting to see that suffering relieved. It is the bridge between empathy and kindness. So when we want to help other people overcome their suffering, first of all, we help make their world a better place; but also our own suffering becomes less. However in order for that to happen we have to listen to really hear what the other person is saying and feeling.

When we have compassion and really listen, letting another person truly express what is on his mind, we begin to experience Joy. So does he.

But listening is not easy. You have to forget about your own issues, forget about giving solutions and suggestions to the person, and just be 100% present with them, as they trust you enough to tell you their story.

I remember, a little over a year after my mother died, some friends were visiting and Bob asked me the question, “Christine, what was your experience of your mother’s death?”

No one had ever asked me that before, but without preamble, I started talking and Bob listened. I talked for quite awhile and he listened, completely focused on what I was saying. I told about my fears when she got sick, her last days in the hospital, her dying and my mortality, and the horror of a slow cancer death. I talked about what it was like to watch someone I loved die, reduced to nothing but her spirit at the end.

I filled up a few times, and still he listened. I had never put those feelings into words before, and saying them was powerful medicine for both of us. Bob and his wife had lost three of their parents in a very short time, and I knew they understood.

That day I felt their compassion and acceptance, all because they listened. If you can imagine, I felt Joy on that day and I will never forget it.

Listening is not always easy but it will calm down your entire life. It will change your relationships with your friends, your spouse and your children, because they will be able to talk and you will be present. Then people see that you are really listening with a heartfelt presence. It makes people happy to see that.

How about you? Do you listen with your whole heart and mind, or do you wait for the other person to stop talking so that you can say your thing?

Conversely, do people listen to you when you have something to say? Or do you feel that no one understands you?

Let’s watch our listening during the next week. When someone is telling you something, where is your mind? Try to focus on what they are saying and let them feel your presence.

Do you feel Joy when you do that?







Compassion At The Chicken Cooler

Last Friday I found myself in a place I’m not that fond of at the end of the week- the grocery store. It’s usually quite busy on a Friday afternoon, but I had no choice but to get myself there to buy some food for the weekend. And so as I meandered my way through the aisles, dodging children, grocery carts and displays that were oddly placed right where I needed to go, I tried to maintain a positive and upbeat attitude.

Man, it was busy there!

And so there I was, blocking an older man while I perused the chicken cooler. I apologized for being in the way as I tried to pull my cart to the side so he could pass. He told me he was 78 years old and wasn’t in too much of a hurry. Then he started to tell me about how his shoelace had come undone in the cereal aisle.

In his halting voice he said, “I had to tie up my shoe or I would have tripped.”

I looked down at his shoes, now perfectly tied.

“Everyone was rushing around to get their groceries and they were none too patient, it was plain to see. There was this one young woman who seemed quite put out at having to wait for me to tie my shoe so that she could pass.”

“Too bad for her.” I said, sticking up for the guy.

“So”, he said, “I was already down on one knee tying my shoe, and I looked up at her angry face. And I said to her, ‘Will you marry me?’”

You could say that unglued her, just a little.

The two of us had a great laugh there beside the chicken cooler; and then I went on to finish my shopping in a much more lighthearted mood. I was still chuckling to myself as I greeted other harried shoppers. They smiled back and some of us joked as we kept meeting, aisle after aisle. My world had brightened considerably. His little story showed me to not take myself so darned seriously.

I don’t know the man’s name and perhaps our paths will not cross again, but just because of that moment in time and a shared laugh, I’ll never forget him and the lessons he taught me about humor, compassion and kindness.

 This is a picture of a framed print I have had forever…kind of apropos, don’t you think?compassion

What’s Your Jabber Jabber Talk Talk?

Positivity No Negativity Challenge

Day 35 of 84

 It amazes me just how fast our thoughts can change from one mode to another. A few weeks ago someone suggested that I write down all my negative thoughts as they came to me. I never really thought I had that many negative thoughts; I always thought of myself as a ‘glass half full’ type of person. So to humor this person, I decided to do it.

With my notebook at the ready, I plunged into my first couple of days.

There is talk that goes on in a person’s mind constantly. The mind is almost never a blank, except maybe while meditating and then it is only with great effort that we can keep the stream of thoughts out. I like to think of the conversation that goes on in my mind as ‘jabber jabber talk talk’. It’s the talk that sorts out our thoughts; it’s sometimes our lower self, arguing with our higher self and it’s the constant stream of opinions, fears, what ifs and fatalistic thoughts of whatamIgoingtodoaboutthatsituation.

Once I became conscious of the negative thoughts and started writing them down, I was shocked at not only the quantity but also the intensity of them. Some of my thoughts were downright ugly, directed not only at myself but also at others. They put me in a bad mood.

After I had filled a page with my negative jabber jabber talk talk, I decided to stop it in its tracks. I couldn’t believe how fast the negative thoughts disappeared. They just stopped. Occasionally a negative thought crept in and I recognized it as such right away. I immediately banished it to the recycling bin.

My disposition changed overnight and people close to me immediately noticed.

I noticed.

The nasty ‘jabber jabber talk talk’ changed to loving thoughts; thoughts that give a person the benefit of the doubt; thoughts that have compassion for others.

My assignment was supposed to have lasted two weeks, but within less than 48 hours I had nothing left to write in my notebook.

I think I’m on to something here…


 I am grateful for:

1. A connected family

2. The holly bush in the front yard that is resplendent with luscious red berries

3. My son’s grade five rendition of The Starry Night that hangs in my office

4. A certain doctor in Corner Brook, NL

5. Positive thoughts that start to crowd out the negative ones