The Art of Listening

When it comes to listening, let's be honest, most of us have room to improve this important skill – and this includes listening to both those around us as well as our bodies. When it comes to the latter, one thing is for sure: if we aren’t aligned with the internal messaging of our physical selves, it’s pretty hard to communicate authentically with the outside world. In other words, the art of effective listening comes when we understand ourselves and heed the calls of our own inner voices.1 

Listening to Our Body

Whether we hear them or not, our body sends out unique, physiological signals daily, reflecting the state of our emotional and psychic states. For example, when we get nervous or anxious, our bodies can break into a cold sweat, our hands can get clammy and our heart rate can increase. These responses are signs that our body is trying to communicate with us, letting us know that something is off kilter. When we pay attention to these signals and pair them with our values and actions, we are more likely to feel calmer, more peaceful and centered.1

However, when we dismiss and overrule these messages, we can be left feeling overwhelmed and disconnected.1

Modern culture emphasizes a focus on the external, especially when it comes to body image. It’s no secret how much more attention gets placed on our physique versus things that really matter such as intellect, health, a benevolent heart and emotional wisdom. The truth is, our body and mind are meant to be integrated – with our body taking cues from our intuition, and our minds responding to the needs of our body.2 If this give-and-take is practiced, it’s possible to sense an imbalance before seeing physical signs of it, potentially to the point of knowing there’s a health issue before receiving a diagnosis.1

So, how can we listen to our bodies better? We can start by slowing down and attending to our emotions and thoughts – not denying them. From there, we can try to understand and accept those feelings without judgment and be open to what those sensations are trying to tell us. Over time, we can respond to that messaging through subtle (or not so subtle) life changes. Ultimately, as with everything, the goal is about finding balance.2

Listening to Others

Research shows that learning to communicate effectively with others helps us better cope with stress, nurtures our relationships and boosts our health and self-esteem. When it comes to relationships, those who have strong foundations – an open and fluid exchange of emotions, as well as support from their loved ones – often live longer. On the contrary, those who feel misunderstood by their families and friends often report higher rates of depression, which can ultimately weaken the immune system and make us more susceptible to disease.1

David Isay, founder of StoryCorps and author of Listening as an Act of Love, states that “the soul is contained in the human voice.” In an interview with Krista Tippett of On Being, Isay speaks to the significance of being present with another person and taking time to ask them important questions about their life and how they want to be remembered. Moreover, he offers that the power of this act comes not only from receiving the words they share but because the act of being listened to itself is so profound.

In certain ways, getting to know someone for who they really are sounds fundamental, but it’s simply the most genuine way to show love. So, amidst the noise of everyday life, let’s remember that we’re listening creatures and that true listening requires presence, commitment and an open heart. It's so much more than being quiet while the other person speaks – listening is a social technology, an art.3

"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around". – Leo Buscaglia