I read two quotations in the March Richmond Friends Meetingnewsletter and stopped breathing for a second. You know that feeling—something out of the blue—a quotation, a poem or a comment--strikes you forcefully and you must pay attention. Who knows why a comment means so much to one person but not to another.
I take a risk in sharing them with you—not knowing if it was only me in the moment or that these quotes pack a universal punch. But here’s why they mean so much to me. They speak of two aspects of listening—critical aspects—that matter in every sector of our lives: personal, spiritual, professional.
They matter, I believe, because they tell us how important listening is in the most critical points in our lives, when it means the most to listen and often our instincts scream to do just the opposite. They matter, I believe, because they connect the every day to the deepest and most spiritual parts of our being.
“Never before did there seem so many things to be done, to be said, to be thought; and in every direction I was pushed and pulled, and greeted with noisy acclamations of unspeakable unrest. It seemed necessary for me to listen to some of them, and to answer some of them, but God said, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Then came the conflict of thoughts for the morrow, and its duties and cares; but God said ‘Be still’. And as I listened, and slowly learned to obey, and shut my ears to every sound, I found, after a while, that when the other voices ceased, or I ceased to hear them, there was a still, small voice in the depths of my being that began to speak with an inexpressible tenderness, power and comfort.”
--John Edward Southall, c. 1900
“It is a powerful discipline for the ‘listener’ to try to listen without agenda, without the compulsion to help, abandoning the need or desire to appear knowledgeable, wise or comforting. There may be no more tellingly difficult spiritual practice than the effort to receive what is being said by someone else hospitably, without editing, without correction, without unsolicited advice. Yet it is this open listening that makes room for the Spirit of God to be present in the midst of the interaction, illuminating and guiding what is taking place.
--Patricia Loring, 1997
Listening, the very skill organizations know they need and spend thousands of dollars teaching people how to do, is a “tellingly difficult spiritual practice.” Yet quieting the cacophony of voices to discern the “still, small voice in the depths of my being” or receiving “what is being said by someone else hospitably” creates an opportunity for us to respond to the every day from the depths of our soul.
Listening in this way brings our soulful attention to the way we spend our time, what decisions we make, how we approach problems, what information we learn, how we respond to others. If you think of it in business terms, it brings a powerful and wise resource to bear on any and every concern.
Next week we’ll explore how we often get in our own way when what we really, truly want to listen.
Plum Cluverius, PCC is an executive coach with over 30 years experience in leadership and professional development. She lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.