“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
― Ernest Hemingway
How often have you found yourself in a conversation and realize you have no idea what was just said? If you are anything like the average person, it happens every day (probably more times than you are willing to admit). You might even be interested in what’s being said, but your mind has carried you off on one of its wanderings.
Our minds are often scattered and unruly, which is why the practice of mindfulness can be so important. You have to be present in order to listen and take in what is being said. You also have to be listening without your own agenda and without being busy thinking of what you will say next.
In my Comparative Studies class, we are reading Chade-Meng Tan’s Search Inside Yourself. Chapter 3 dives into mindfulness, with focus on mindful listening and mindful conversation:
Formal Practice of Mindful Conversation
“The three parts to this skill are listening, looping, and dipping. Listening means giving the gift of attention to the speaker. Looping means closing the loop of communication by demonstrating that you have really heard what the person is saying. Dipping means checking in with yourself, and knowing how you are feeling about what you are hearing. Part of the practice is becoming able to give full attention to the speaker, with full awareness of your own feelings.
Begin with mindful listening. Give the speaker the gift of your attention without losing awareness of your body. If any strong emotion arises, acknowledge it and, if possible, let it go. After the speaker is done expressing his/her views, make sure you fully understood by repeating back what you heard. After demonstrating that you understood the speaker, it is your turn to speak.”
Today, we did an in-class activity that came straight from the book. First, we each paired up with someone we’ve never spoken to before.
- Person A speaks in monologue for 4 minutes. The entire 4 minutes belongs to you.
- Person B listens. Your job is to give your full attention to the speaker.
I partnered with an international student who sits on the opposite side of the room from me. He spoke first, and I listened. I learned that he grew up in China in a city near Shanghai. This is his first time studying abroad in the United States. He noticed that the main difference between China and the Midwest are cultural. He went out to dinner with his roommates and they all ordered a dish for themselves. He asked them why they put their dish right in front of them and not in the middle of the table; they told him that this is how it is in America, that you order a dish for yourself. He told me that in China, people order multiple dishes and put them all in the middle of the table so everyone can share. He also finds it extremely difficult to communicate. This is not because of his broken English, but because it seems that American people do not want to talk to him. He doesn’t know why, but they don’t seem interested. His international friends feel the same way. This is why he spends most of his time with other Chinese students and doesn’t branch out. He has felt rejected in the past.
In regards to the cultural difference, I actually think ordering multiple dishes and sharing between friends and family is actually a genius idea. Why order and enjoy one dish when you can sample multiple dishes off of the menu and split the cost?
The second half of his monologue is what really upset me. Why haven’t I made more of an effort to make international students feel welcome? Why did I wait until an in-class activity at the end of the year to get to know this boy in front of me? I am going to take this assignment as a lesson to make the world, and my world, a better place. I will…
…introduce myself to others and ask them introduce themselves to me.
…start up a conversation with the people around me instead of grabbing my phone during the few minutes before class.
…sit in a different area of the classroom every few days or weeks.
…not be afraid to ask for a phone number exchange
…make an effort to hang out or grab dinner with a new person once a week or once every other week.
…not avoid friendships or interactions because we might not have similar interests. Instead, I will take the opportunity to learn about and embrace the diversity of people. For example, I may not read comics, but by talking to someone who does, I can have an appreciation for them and maybe even read one.
This is definitely applicable outside of the classroom as well. I love talking to and getting to know strangers, even if only for a few brief minutes. They are beautifully honest.
So, I am giving you a challenge: practice mindfulness—the act of being fully present in each moment with kindness and without judgment. It is a wonderful skill to practice when you are in any situation that requires listening. In any conversation, you can use the person that’s speaking as your “object of mindfulness.” Pay full attention to what he or she is saying. When your mind wanders away from what is being said, immediately and without judgment, bring yourself back to the words of the person speaking. Repeat those instructions as many times as necessary. You will eventually strengthen your mind to stay more focused and aware.
Try the mindful listening practice for one day and come back and comment about what you discovered. I would love to hear what you learned!
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand;
they listen with the intent to reply.”
― Stephen R. Covey