“To listen is to lean in softly with the willingness to be changed by what we hear” – Mark Nepo
I recently read that, in the year 2000, the attention span of the average human being was 12 seconds. Fast-forward to 2013 and we had got that figure down to only 8 seconds. I’m taking a wild guess here but I reckon, by now, this may have dropped further: dare I say to 7 seconds, maybe? Alarmingly, that is the same attention span as a goldfish!
Think back to the old days. Our telephones were attached by a cable to the wall. The phone either hung on the wall or sat on a small side table and there was a chair nearby. When the phone rang, we would sit to talk to the person on the other end of the line and our whole attention would be brought to that moment.
In this increasingly technological age, we are now able to take in huge amounts of information. I, for instance, am a master of multi-tasking. I can look at my computer screen, be logged in simultaneously to Skype, email and messaging, and talk to someone on the phone at the same time. I can even make tea while I do all this. I know I am not alone: many of us are multi-tasking more than ever before.
In a way, parts of our brain have been deactivated: the parts that used to help us concentrate when we had time to absorb information. When we plug into a screen, there isn’t really much need for us to concentrate or listen, because at any moment we can shut the screen off, if we become distracted with what’s on offer. We don’t take the time to absorb information like we used to because technology has become so much more present in our lives.
To test this out, over the course of a week I recorded how many times I checked my email per day. Alarmingly, on a typical day, I checked my email/phone/device on average 25 times. I am self-employed so I do make sure I have plenty of breaks in the day and I wouldn’t say I work a solid 7 hours a day either. So, I can only imagine how many times other people check their email, particularly those who especially work in the corporate world, where they have to check their mail to stay informed: scary right? According to some reports, the average office worker checks their email 30 times an hour. In a typical working day, 130 times per day. Yikes!
In a way we have created a new learning: the art of NOT listening! Not listening to others fully, which affects the way we listen to ourselves internally! This creates communication problems with people. Instead of being present and fully aware, we have cultivated frustration, short tempers, short attention spans, impatience, exhaustion, relationship breakdowns, misunderstandings and conflicts. But all is not lost. We can reprogram ourselves and come back into balance.
Daily Practice: Listen
The greatest gift you can give a person is to be still and really listen while they are speaking. How do we cultivate this art of listening, the thing that creates intimacy, the listening that awakens our heart and mind together?
Spend a few moments inhaling and exhaling, taking long breaths until you feel a real sense of peace and silence. Begin to listen. When I say listen, I mean really listen; listen wholeheartedly as if devices had never been invented, as if there were nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. Then notice what happens. What you may feel is the space around you and the other person. You may find that you get lost in the feeling of just being. You may feel love and respect for the other person. You may notice that you start to speak more slowly, that you acknowledge and are just present for each other. The person you’re talking to may start to relax and open up. Before you know it, your interaction becomes an enjoyable experience.
Finish the conversation with gratitude, an acknowledgement of some sort, such as ‘Thank you for sharing. I hear you! I’m grateful we got to connect etc.’ Appreciation brings you back into your heart and raises your vibes, which is very attractive!