5 keys to Deep Listening, supporting a shift from “I don’t know” to knowing.
- 1. Silence
- 2. Space
- 3. Softening
- 4. Slow down
- 5. Somatic ABCs
A favorite among my students is “Somatic ABCs,” because it strengthens the other four.
“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person.
You can call it compassionate listening.
You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart.”
Nhat Hanh Zen Master and the father of the mindfulness movement
These four important keys will help elevate your ability to give yourself and others the gift of deep listening.
Let your inner student meet your inner teacher
I first met my inner teacher and started the path of learning to listen more deeply as a young child in my first year of school. Even though a monster-making tumor had been surgically removed from above and behind my right eye earlier that year, I was left with ear to ear scars, swelling and a short haircut (the price I paid to be free of the disfigurement).
I was also left with emotional scars, crippling shyness from years of being stared at, feeling the judgment of others when they saw me, and homesickness. I died twice during the surgery to save my sight, experiencing what my young mind called home, complete and total unconditional love, peace, joy and freedom from the suffering of life.
In comparison to the home death showed me, life felt like a painful prison. Now I was at primary school, having to face hordes of strange eyes with sneering questions like, “Why’s your hair like a boy?” and “Why’s your eye funny?”
Class time with our schoolteacher was wonderful; learning to read and write felt like finding a hidden treasure, but break time was my nightmare. I pretended to be busy going somewhere or looking at something to avoid other children.
Out the corner of my eye, I watched boys playing marbles on drain lids, circles of girls clapping and singing, giggling, belonging. As soon as they’d noticed me, I moved on. But after a few weeks, I could tell they were starting to notice the odd girl always walking around alone.
Knee buckling sadness descended, so I risked being caught and ran to the prohibited hallways outside our classrooms. With my back against the wall, I hunched over my open lunch box, sobbing as quietly as I could, watching tears fall into my sandwiches.
The homesickness, shyness, aloneness and grief were unbearable. I didn’t share my burden with my family, who’d already suffered so much because of me.
The only way I can describe what happened next is a peaceful presence showed up. So subtle I could have easily ignored it or missed it.
Sometimes suffering helps us open up to deep listening because we’re completely surrendered. I’d surrendered to my grief, so it was easier to hear the peaceful inner thoughts that said, “You’re not alone. I’m with you.”
I looked around the school passage and saw no one. I became frightened.
I imagined a pink tenpin-shaped light hovering near me, which disturbed me.
“What are you?” I asked.
“I’m a friend,” the thoughts conveyed. “You can choose what to call me.”
The way this pink light felt reminded me of my favorite television cartoon character Barbapapa. Barbapapa, a pink tenpin shaped father of a family of Barbapapas, could change shape, becoming a playground for children or a fire truck to put out a burning house. Barbapapa was kind and loving.
“You’re my Barbapapa,” I smiled.
Whether you listen to my story and think I had some break-in reality or believe I made contact with an invisible friend is up to you. I can tell you that during those difficult early years, the inner voice of what my young mind called Barbapapa kept me sane and encouraged me to be brave enough to make friends.
Years later, I dropped the name Barbapapa and explored other names, guide, angel, soul. Our inner teacher doesn’t mind what name we use: Barbapapa, higher self, intuitive inner voice or satguru. Ultimately when we learn to listen deeply, we start building our Wisdom Wells.
And wisdom changes everything.
By building a Wisdom Well as a mindfulness meditation practice, we can tune in deeper than the torture chamber surface mind that holds us hostage with fear and endless unsatisfied desire to find the purifying water of clear seeing and clear being.
But it all starts with deep listening. Without deep listening, we drag our buckets through the dirt, hoping to find water – ever thirsty. If we only dig a little, we would meet our inner teacher. Then we bring the water of clear seeing to the surface for healing, to grow the garden of our enlightened lives.
Deep listening allows the inner student to meet the inner teacher.
The saying, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear,” is true, but what if your inner teacher is already waiting for you?
I spent my life learning to dig a Wisdom Well as a meditation and mindfulness practice and teaching others how to build wells as a master coaching service.
I’ve seen that anyone, with patience and guidance, can learn to build their Wisdom Well, to change radio stations from the suffering and stress of the surface mind, to find the crystal clear water that is always waiting within.
Without deep listening, our master coaching, meditation and mindfulness practice is:
- Surface – filled with ego-streamed thoughts from recycled conditioning, keeping us stuck, stressed and suffering. We drag our buckets through the sand and stay thirsty.
With deep listening, our master coaching, mindfulness and meditation practice becomes:
- Enlightening – turning “I don’t know” into “I know” clear seeing and being. As life-changing as water is to someone thirsty in the desert, clear seeing wisdom changes how we see and experience life. We clean the mud from our eyes and I, nourish our mind-heart-body, and grow the garden of living an enlightened life.
Let’s build wisdom wells together, starting with deep listening using these four keys.
Silence for Deep Listening
When we give ourselves and others silence, we invite our inner student to meet our inner teacher.
Here are three ways to use silence for deep listening.
- Include the noise
- Tune into silence
- Teach your mind-heart-body to enjoy silence
Many make the mistake of thinking that silence is the opposite of noise. So they try to get rid of outer and inner noise to create silence forcefully.
Like trying to quieten busy thoughts and silence a heavy heart, you may have already noticed that the noise worsens by trying to force it away.
Our minds can sound like this:
“Okay, quieting the mind now, no thoughts. Hang on, that’s a thought. Gosh, and that’s another thought. Oh, and another… How on earth am I supposed to keep my mind quiet? And there it goes again.”
To invite silence into your master coaching and mindful meditation naturally, you can include the noise.
Include the noise –
Welcome noisy thoughts and make room for noisy coachee dialogue. Everything belongs in silence; everything is welcome.
- In InnerLifeSkills Coaching Certification, we call the highest expression of this ‘Coach Position.’ Master coaches take ‘Coach Position’ to a level of nonjudgment; this alone is a powerful gift to give others.
- In the Wisdom Well Way Meditation, we call this digging our Wisdom Well, being willing to get our hands dirty. You can’t skip the dirt to get to the water. Listen deeply to your raw and real human experience – that way, you are already creating natural silence.
Tune into silence –
Set your intention (make a silent inner decision) to tune in intuitively to the silence behind all noise (external and internal noise).
Intention directs attention; by deciding to tune in to silence, the song of silence plays through our body-mind-heart. Even if the mind carries on chatting (as it does), even if our coachee carries on talking (as they do), if you tune in to silence, you’ll be listening deeply.
Teach your mind-heart-body to enjoy silence –
Many are conditioned to avoid silence, filling the void with surface talk, using browsing the internet, radio and television to avoid the emptiness; this way, we stay thirsty in the desert. True freedom comes from building your Wisdom Well. Teach the body-mind-heart the freedom of enjoying silence.
- Create space for deep listening. Here are three ways.
- Create outer wisdom spaces
- Create inner wisdom spaces
- Break outer eye focus
- Break inner object focus
Create outer wisdom spaces
There are many wonderful ways to create wisdom spaces for yourself and others. When my team and I train master coaches, we call this working with ‘perceptual spaces’ because it’s about using physical space changes to help a coachee change their point of view from where they can’t see to where they can.
Like standing on the side of a mountain where you can only hear the river, all that’s needed is to walk around the mountain and, “oh wow, I can see the river.” People don’t realize that we can take our mind on a walk around the mountain.
The part of the mind where the question comes from doesn’t have the answers. We need to send the bucket deeper than the surface. The inner student needs to find the inner teacher. To support deep listening, we can use physical spaces to facilitate a shift of attention from the surface mind to the depths of wisdom.
Here is one easy way to build a wisdom space.
Pillows & Papers –
One pillow or paper represents the surface mind, and another represents Wisdom. Start your coaching or meditation sitting on the ‘surface mind’ one, then, when you’re ready, move to the second. Set an intention to change perceptual spaces, to open intuitively, to listen deeply to find inner wisdom.
Create inner wisdom spaces
When we take attention inwards, we meet the rocks and the dirt of our surface mind and surface feelings. You need to know this is natural and normal. Don’t give up.
Meditation is how we create an inner space to build our wisdom wells. But we can’t fill a bucket that’s already full.
How do we make sure our bucket is empty enough to find wisdom?
- Let go of expectations.
- Let go of attachment to the outcome of the practice.
- Surrender to not knowing.
That’s the meditation inner space state needed to be filled with wisdom.
In the Zen tradition, it is taught that the only mind that can be enlightened is the ‘I don’t know mind’.
We can’t listen deeply if we believe our “I already have all the answers surface mind.”
Break eye contact, break object focus
Master coaches are often surprised to learn that too much eye contact is not helpful in coaching. When you lock eyes with your coachee (whomever you are coaching) you don’t allow them to look into the distance or to look inwards.
By intentionally breaking eye contact, we free our coachee to send their attention from the surface to the depths. To create space break eye contact but stay present and engaged.
In meditation and mindfulness, we close our eyes to break eye contact from the focus on objects. It’s also helpful to learn to break fixation with inner objects (thoughts, feelings, memories, images).
Being more interested in outer and inner spaciousness to listen deeply.
Give yourself and others the gift of deep listening by softening the hard edges of how you ask questions and speak. Speaking and listening work together. Inner dialogue in meditation or after dialogue in master coaching means there’s always a relationship between speaking and listening. To improve listening, we can improve our speaking.
Here are some ways to soften the edge of our speaking, (both inner and outer dialogue,) to improve listening.
Give yourself and others the gift of caring, not sympathy “Oh shame,” or cheerleading with “Great wonderful,” but simple ordinary sincere care.
Show care in your tone of voice and open your heart with empathy. This will immediately deepen your listening.
Compassion means not taking a plus position (superiority, controlling domination or trying too hard) and neither taking a minus position (inferiority, hiding, minimizing or avoiding.)
Compassion means everything belongs, where we stand as an equal-being in partnership with those we coach.
We stand equal to the voices of our inner struggles, showing compassion for our pettiness, jealousy, violent thoughts, and judgments – being compassionate about the courage it takes to be human.
When we invite compassion into our master coaching meditation and mindfulness, we immediately deepen our capacity to offer deep listening because this gentleness carries great strength.
Instead of asking, “What is the solution?” Bring curiosity and experimentation into your style of enquiry, “I’m curious what possible ideas come to mind?”
Can you see the difference?
By softening the edge of how we ask ourselves others’ questions, we open to shifts in perspective from surface to depth. This softening technique is a master coaching skill that greatly supports a coachee shifting from “I don’t know” to “I know” from confusion to clarity.
When we bring curiosity to our tone, we soften the edge of grasping, forcing, pushing and pulling. This naturally supports deeper listening.
To listen deeply, we need to slow down. Slow down our physical movements and sit still. We help shift from a stressed sympathetic nervous system dominance to a relaxed parasympathetic nervous system dominance by slowing down our breathing.
The surface mind might argue that we don’t have time to slow down and that we need to move faster to get things done. Coaching can also feel time pressured with only 30 or 60 minutes to coach.
But the surface mind doesn’t know how powerful slowing down is. We ironically become more productive when we slow down our master coaching, mindfulness, and meditation. To listen more deeply, we need to slow down. To build Wisdom Wells we need to slow down.
I’ve found that even twenty minutes of slowing down to meditate and listen deeply to my inner teacher in the morning resolves and dissolves so many barriers and brings so much clarity that my day is exponentially more productive, joyful and stress-free. Moving quickly, forcing and trying to beat time always produces less, leaving me exhausted and burned out.
Slow down to listen deeply, “Ah, isn’t that better?”
Even a day with lots to be done can benefit by slowing down and meeting each task mindfully while listening deeply.
Many of my graduate certified master coaches tell me that one of their favorite InnerLifeSkills methods is “ABCs.”
- ABCs is consciously (with intention) shifting attention to the centre of the body and staying there.
- ABCs is a somatic method – somatic means of the body, actively noticing subtle energetic and sensation changes in the body.
It sounds simple and abstract, but this somatic mindfulness, meditation, and master coaching practice is a powerful ally in life. It will help you listen deeply to find your inner teacher and take your coaching to master levels.
Experiments and compare the difference between putting your attention above your shoulders (in your mind) and then trying to listen, meditate, be mindful, guide and coach with attention to your thoughts. You may notice it’s difficult to concentrate; we don’t feel connected, the judgemental surface mind is dominant (it’s got the microphone), we feel separate, and we struggle to listen truly.
You’ll notice that when your attention is on the centre of the body (the heart and abdomen area), this helps change radio stations from surface to substance, ego to wisdom, noisy torture chamber mind to intuitive knowing.
Even if the surface mind is still chattering, it becomes less dominant because it’s not got the microphone – you handed the microphone to your inner teacher. ABCs helps us feel connected, have more empathy, and listen more deeply.
Once you get used to using your ABCs to listen more deeply, then add ABCs to speaking. AB Cs help us speak from a place of presence.
ABCs added to building your Wisdom Well can free your voice for wisdom, whether you are silent or vocal.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these keys to listening more deeply as a master coaching mindfulness and meditation practice.
By listening deeply, we build wisdom wells as a gift to ourselves and others
You don’t know what you know until you learn to listen deeply
- After all, what is another word for mindfulness than listening deeply?
- What is another word for meditation than listening deeply?
- What is another word for master coaching than listening deeply?
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