The Art of Listening Not long ago, my best friend called me at 1 a.m. I was still awake, but already in bed and just about to turn out the light. I contemplated not answering, as I'd had a super long day and I knew a call would re-energize me (not at all desirable at this time of day), but I had a missed call from her earlier, so I picked up. After some small chitchat, she began to tell me about an incident with her boss that day. As she went into very specific detail about the story, I just sat back (literally) and listened. She spoke for about five straight minutes without me uttering a word. I had attended a Buddhist lecture earlier that evening. I think my exhaustion, coupled with the very Zen feeling I had post-lecture, put me in some sort of meditative state where I was able to be present and hear her without the need to interrupt or interject.
When she finally paused and asked, "What do you think?" I was able to offer my advice in a clear and thoughtful way. Rather than the usual "Yeah, your boss sucks," I brought up the possibility that her boss actually had a point and it was just poorly delivered. I then suggested that her boss was very likely overtired, having just returned from maternity leave, which undoubtedly affected her mood. What was super interesting was that my friend in turn was actually listening to me. Now, I admit, we are both "chatty Cathy's." So a conversation between us is usually like two squawking chickens both vying to get a word in. But that night was different. In the end we decided that her was boss was in fact exhausted and probably conflicted about leaving her new baby, so my friend's best course of action would be to go to work early and help make her boss's life easier. We both felt good about this resolution, and I think something actually changed in our relationship. We HEARD each other. In this crazy, busy, self-absorbed life we lead, listening falls by the wayside. I recently spoke with my sister on the phone, and after talking for a long while she said, "You know, you just talked about yourself for 20 minutes. You haven't once asked about me." F–k, I hadn't. I have another friend, whom I love, but who does not have the ability to conduct an face-to-face conversation without simultaneously checking her phone. It's infuriating, it's rude, and it kind of says "I don't care what you have to say. It's not important to me."
The great thinker and religious teacher Krishnamurti said that love is ATTENTION. And the best way to practice attention and cultivate listening is to mindfully do so throughout your day. Listen to your colleague at work when you ask her what she did last night, don't just nod and say "Hmm" while you text and browse. Listen to your boyfriend at dinner instead of mentally recapping your day. Cultivating the art of listening will help you profoundly in ways both big and small, from improving relationships with your family to deciding to leave a job or a lover, to putting down that gorgeous cashmere sweater at the mall, because even though it's on sale, you have 20 others just like it at home. Listening brings us into the moment at-hand; it takes us out of our own heads (and egos) and makes us present to what is there in front of us. And what is there in front of us is life and the opportunity to participate fully by being fully present. This is best gift that we can give to others and to ourselves. This is love. This article originally appeared on Sonage Skincare Blog.