If we want to be better listeners,
if we want our children to be better listeners,
we need to start by listening to ourselves.
Listening is normally thought of in the context of sound, but listening goes far deeper than that which is heard. Without any effort we hear the sounds of the world around us; it can’t be switched off. Listening on the other hand is an active and intentional process. To truly listen we use more than just our ears, we use our entire body, our brain, and our heart. The ears are simply the conduit through which sound travels.
To Listen is to be present. It requires us to pause and tune in to the moment taking place here and now. When we listen we observe the energy that surrounds us, the sounds, the movements, and the feelings. We absorb the information of our environment, and filter it through our past experiences and current knowledge.
Listening requires acceptance, awareness and focus; and where our focus goes, energy flows. When we listen attentively to someone, we create (or strengthen) an energetic connection. When we listen to others we connect with them and when we listen to ourselves we connect with who we are. Listening is more than a skill - it is an art, a way of being, LOVE.
Listening and relationships
Too often we underestimate the power of listening. Deep listening is at the heart of every healthy relationship. By listening CAREfully to others we are telling them that we CARE about them. When we listen in this way we make a conscious decision to “be” with that person. To hear them, see them, feel them and relate.
There is a story behind every person. Behind why they are the way they are and why they do the things they do. When we listen we become aware of that person. But before we can become aware of others we need to become aware of ourselves. We need to know ourselves. Being able to listen to ourselves is the key to opening our hearts and minds to others.
The importance of listening to ourselves
I have always considered myself an attentive listener, but listening to myself has not always been something that has come so naturally and it is something I continue to work on - it is a life long journey. One day I hope to be able to say that it’s one of my strengths.
I often use the excuse that I can’t listen to myself because I’m a parent. I don’t have time. We have schedules and routines, things to do and places to be. We can’t just go with the flow and do what we like, when we like - or can we?
As a society we have not only become disconnected from each other but we have become disconnected from ourselves. We wake up to alarm clocks, we eat at designated times, we rest when we are given a break, and “me time” is often left for the weekends, if we get a chance to fit it in. I think the first part of learning to listen is breaking free from the belief that things have to be this way.
Many of us are confused and overwhelmed about whether or not we are doing the right things, or making the right choices (especially when it comes to our children) and this sense of confusion can be a sign that we have become out of touch with ourselves and this can lead to all kinds of problems including mental health struggles, heightened emotional responses, sickness, low energy, and destructive patterns of behaviour. Some of us don’t even realise until it’s too late and we suffer a burnout or breakdown. For me it took being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue and IBS. I was forced to start listening to my body or I would end up in intense pain. It took some time but I realised that if I listened to the whispers I wouldn’t hear the roars.
Listening can be hard especially when we hear things that we don’t want to hear such as pain, anger, or discomfort. But if a friend came to you with these feelings how would you respond? You would welcome them, listen to them and embrace them with open arms. It might be uncomfortable or difficult at first but you will soon discover that your body and the feelings you experience within it are your friends too, even when it may feel like the enemy.
Wholehearted listening is something
I want to be able to pass on to my children.
When we listen to ourselves,
our children learn to listen to themselves.
When I look to the future I see us living by our own natural rhythm. I don’t want my children to loose themselves in others or the noise of the world. I want them to feel empowered and to be able to listen to and trust the senses of their body, their mind, their heart, their intuition, and their inner knowing.
How do we teach our children to listen in?
Children are fantastic listeners. They are intuitive “feelers”, with open hearts and open minds. If they are sad they cry, if they are hungry they seek nourishment, they follow the wisps of curiosity, and live wholly. They are guided by the language of the soul. But then something happens… They are told not to cry, encouraged to eat at set meal times, given subjects to learn and rules to follow. As infants they are in complete harmony, we listen to them and follow their cues. They tell us what they need and we meet those needs. Then as they grow we begin telling them what they need and that internal rhythm soon begins to change its beat.
This is what I have noticed as my children have grown. As they have adjusted to life in the external world they have lost touch with parts of their internal world. We think we know best and override their programmes with our own. Rather than continuing to live intuitively they begin to live life in accordance with the adults around them, their wishes, their schedules and their routines.
Some people may disagree, believing that children don’t know what they need, but how do you know when to eat, when to go to sleep, when to wake up, when you should drink or get some fresh air? How do you know when to take a breath, or when to blink your eyes? Your body tells you, and our children’s bodies tell them too - if we let them listen.
When we begin to chime to an outer clock
we loose touch with our own inner rhythm.
Children learn to listen by having opportunities to listen. Before we can provide these opportunities we need to know “how” ourselves. As they observe the practice of listening in our lives, they will begin to imitate us, making it part of their lives. We can also learn together by connecting with each other and taking time to slow down, to stop, breath, relax, feel and listen.
LEARNING TO LISTEN
Our bodies send us hundreds upon hundreds of messages to keep us alive and thriving. Our thoughts, feelings and the sensations of our bodies activate to communicate, providing us with a huge amount of information. We could look at ourselves as having multiple bodies. A physical body, spiritual body (etheric/subtle energy body) emotional body and mental body. If it’s been a while since you’ve tuned in, it can feel like listening to a radio station that only picks up static or a completely different language but with practice we can relearn and rebuild the connections between our heart, brain and body.
Slow down, breathe and relax
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” - Rumi
How often do you sit in silence or take a moment for yourself to stop and just breathe? If we want to hear something quiet we need to stop and listen.
Take a moment to connect with your body and shift your focus into the area of your heart.
Begin to breathe slowly - Inhale, hold, and exhale.
As you slow your breathing, you are sending a signal to your body
that you are in a place that is safe and it’s okay to turn your attention inward.
Imagine that there is a “mini YOU” inside you and it wants to talk. It’s sending you feedback ALL THE TIME through thoughts, feelings and sensations.
Our sensations are the easiest to listen to. When we are hungry our tummies growl, when we are tired our eyes feel heavy, when we are cold we get shivery and if we are hurt we feel pain. These messages start in our bodies and move up to our brain
Our thoughts are a little more tricky to decode. We each have an ‘internal voice’ and that voice is not always our own. Our thought patterns evolve throughout our lifetime and are greatly influenced by our childhood experiences, our caregivers, peers and society. Often we are unaware of these patterns and they begin to rule our lives. Have you ever thought “I can’t do that” and realised it sounded just like your mum, dad, grandparent or teacher?
Our feelings follow our thoughts, they are the least understood and hardest to listen to. These messages start in our heart/brain and move down through our body. When we are nervous we may get sweaty palms or feel jittery, when we are sad we cry and if we are scared our hearts begin to race. We often label them as good or bad but they are neither. Each feeling communicates something to us.
But not everything that we experience within us is ours. Our intuition helps us make sense of what we perceive. Neurologically, we are finely tuned and open to all kinds of energies which we experience and absorb from others and our environment. Just as plants are capable of absorbing energy from other plants, humans are capable of absorbing energy from their surroundings.
With all of this information to process, listening to our bodies is not always easy. Try asking yourself:
“What is this feeling? What is it telling me I need? What do I need to do?”
- - - - - - - - -
Allow yourself to turn inward and
notice what you are experiencing within your body.
Pay attention to your heart beat, energy level, temperature,
emotions, and any tension you may be holding.
Where are these sensations located
– in your head, throat, chest, shoulders, stomach?
See if you can identify them… if you can’t just be aware of them.
Does the physical sensation move or shift?
Notice how it makes you feel
– nauseous, calm, relaxed, tense, heavy or light, pushed or pulled?
Are there any thoughts with the emotions
– try to be aware of them curiously, without judgment.
Our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations are not seperate but intertwined and together they provide us with our own inner guidance. As we explore and acknowledge them, we allow ourselves to become aware and familiar their messages.
Below I’ve given some examples for how we can support and encourage our children to listen to their sensing, thinking and feeling bodies.
When we follow our children’s lead and let them navigate their own routine (with our support) they begin to build an understanding of what they need and when they need it. As adults it can be hard to take a step back but we need to trust our children. Creating an atmosphere suited to listening is much easier in a home environment but many early childhood centres have adjusted their routines to include things such as “rolling meal times”, so that children can eat when they are ready and hungry. Some centres have also begun to allow for flexible rest and sleep periods.
Thinking out loud can feel strange but it is a great way to model a healthy inner voice. Speaking words of encouragement to ourselves and each other when things go well and when they don’t helps to build the foundation for positive self-talk. By asking children for their thoughts and by allowing them opportunities to make decisions we help them strengthen their thinking and decision making abilities.
We can help our children become aware of their feelings and emotions by identifying them in ourselves and others. This helps them build their emotional vocabulary. Learning about emotional intelligence can be fun when we read enjoyable books and play games such as “the meaning of the feeling” where one person describes how they feel and the other person has to name it.
When we understand how the exchange of energy takes place between us and the world around us and how we can either become energised or drained by certain people or situations we can begin to trust our instincts.
As children we are freely connected to our intuition. We can support our children to stay connected by trusting them. We often view children as “empty vessels that require filling”, when instead they should be viewed as being naturally competent and capable, with their own inner wisdom. When we hold space for them and acknowledge that they have their own inner knowing and gifts to share with the world we give them permission to be themselves, to trust themselves and develop their intuition with confidence.
There is no right or wrong way to practice listening, we are all unique, with different interests and abilities. Think of it like exercise, we all need it but not all of us enjoy running. Some prefer to go to the gym, walk, swim or play sport. Just as we don’t have to exercise in the same way, we don’t have to listen in the same way either, we do what works for us.
Some people swear by meditation while others find it challenging. Some people can spend 5 minutes being present with their body while others spend much longer. Practices such as mindfulness, yoga, sitting in silence, spending time in nature, body scans, intentional breathing, progressive relaxation, focusing, and journaling are all exercises in listening.
You need to find something that works for you, something that allows you to pay more attention to what your body is saying and incorporate it into your life, day by day. What’s important isn’t the practice itself but that we listen and learn how our bodies communicate with us. Many schools have begun to implement some of these practices into their curriculum and I am hopeful that one day they will be viewed as important as reading and writing.
As adults we require many “practice” opportunities to re-wire our brains and develop new neural connections. Repeating these practices regularly leads to stronger connections. Our children on the other hand are organically receptive to learning and developing new skills. By allowing them to become involved in our practice, they become wired for listening.
We can think of listening like a muscle. It requires practice, persistence and more importantly the intention to become a good listener. It may take some time to feel natural, you may even feel silly to begin with but the reward is feeling connected to yourself and who you are. We learn by repetition so keep at it. The more we practise listening the more able we are to respond. This is how we love ourselves.
“There are times when we stop, we sit still.
We listen and the breezes from a whole
other world begin to whisper.”
If we stop ourselves from listening, we stop ourselves from hearing. If we are unable or unwilling to hear ourselves we will never be able to hear others. Listening is self-awareness and self-care. When we have done our own healing, when we have identified our triggers, and have taken the time we need to listen to ourselves, we will be more able to listen to others.
We can’t teach our children anything unless we have truly mastered it ourselves. Our children learn through us, not from us. From who we are, not what we say. If we want our children to listen to us we must listen to them and if we want our children to be able to listen to themselves we need to show them how.
We hear what we listen for...
When we learn to listen to our own heart,
we can listen to the hearts of others.
In each moment of every day, a conversation is taking place inside us -
Are you listening?