The Art of Listening

The Art of Listening

Do you ever catch yourself in a conversation with someone and walk away asking yourself what that person said to you? Do you get caught up in your own chatter and fail to be truly present in the moment? 

It’s easy to get caught in the whirlwind of chatter that goes on around us. We find ourselves lost in social media, texting, thinking about tasks we have to accomplish, and creating our own judgements of everything going on around us. All of these distractions cause us to lose the opportunity to be truly present in each and every moment. To say I’m innocent of this myself would be a lie. I get angry at myself for getting caught up in these things, causing me to miss everyone’s unique perspective. 

So what does it really mean to listen? I think about this often. Listening is not the same as hearing. In fact, they couldn’t be any more different. Hearing is merely receiving information. Listening, on the other hand, requires presence. Comprehension. Focus. We must set aside our responses and thoughts and step into another person’s shoes. We must become completely in tune with one another to comprehend the underlying messages which frequently are found beyond the words. 

Listening is a right brain function, but we have been ingrained to use our left brain from a young age. Reading, writing, and speaking are left brain functions. Notice how I italicized the word speaking. You see, if we are taught to use our left brains more than our right, then we are quick to speak and slow to listen. 

The first day I walk into my clinical in med school, a four year old boy is assigned to my care. He was not an ordinary boy. He was diagnosed with Autism. Chiropractic was his mother’s last hope to help her mute and unresponsive child. When I first met this child, I could immediately tell he was locked inside himself. He had no way of communicating, as he could only say a few words, and most of those words were gibberish. I knew I had to do much more than simply hear this little boy. I needed to listen. I had to let go of the thoughts of doubt and fear that flooded my mind. I had to choose to be fully present if I wanted him to have a chance of healing. This was where I found the true definition of listening. It requires much more than the sense of hearing. I had to recruit other senses to listen to this beautiful child. My eyes listened as I read his body language. I had to listen with my sense of touch to know if he was tense or relaxed inside his body. I had to listen with my intuition to know exactly where to go next with his care because his body always knew better than myself. After months of care, this boy trapped inside his own body was set free. We were singing the ABC’s, along with every other nursery rhyme. He was able to tell his mom for the first time how much he loved her. And I’ll never forget how he would grab my hands and place them upon his back, excited and ready to receive his adjustments. 

As I reflect upon the few months I was blessed to care for this child, I think about the biggest lesson he taught me. He taught me what it means to listen. I was so used to hearing and responding, especially being taught to do so in school. He challenged me to be present and to use every sense in my body to listen to him. 

Listening is an easy thing to master. It’s something that must be intentionally practiced daily. Let us challenge ourselves to release worldly distractions and be present in every moment.

“When you talk, you are repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” —Dalai Lama

Yours in health,

Dr. Mishea