Sunday, October 17, 2010

Word Wonder -- listen

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Earlier this week, a friend asked me to write about the word "listen," saying she thought the Universe was telling her to do more of it. That seemed like a good idea, and two ideas came to me. First, I did my follow-the-bread-crumbs brainstorm about listening. I thought of phrases and words that have, or seem to have, something to do with listening :
  • Listen to your elders.
  • "Friends, Romans, countrymen...lend me your ear."
  • Listen to your heart. Listen to your body.
  • Stop, look, and listen before you cross the road.
  • Listen up, people!
  • Hearing is not necessarily the same as listening.
  • "Listen, my friends, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere."
  • Listen to your father!
  • Mom, mom! Listen to this!!
  • Can't you ever listen to what I'm saying!?
  • sounds of silence
  • "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
  • list to starboard
  • enlist
  • listless
  • bucket list, shopping list, gratitude list, To Do list
These phrases from literature and everyday life stirred a range of images and feelings in me. My seventh grade teacher used to raise her voice over the din of our pre-adolescent cacophony and proclaim, "Listen up, people!" She was prone to pitching text books at the heads of those she felt had broken the rules, so we generally listened up pretty quickly.

Then there's "listing to starboard." I know approximately zero about boats, but I think this phrase suggests rocking, rolling waves that violently tip seafaring vessels and their passengers sideways...maybe towards the starboard side? Anyway, to me listing has always meant stumbling or pitching at dangerous angles. I'll look it up in a minute to see if I'm in the right neighbourhood.

In any case, if listing has something to do with leaning, then listening could have something to do with leaning forward to pay close attention to another's words. And enlisting could have to do with coming forward to have one's name put on a list, perhaps a list of soldiers. So, now, to the dictionary...


1. To make conscious use of the sense of hearing; be attentive in order to hear. 2. To pay attention; give heed. 3. To be influenced or persuaded. [From the Old English word hlysnan, which was related to another Old English word hlyst, meaning "hearing."] -- Funk & Wagnall's Canadian College Dictionary

Well, it turns out I was way off base on the connection among listen, list, and enlist, though I was right about the meaning of "list." Ah, well...I had fun. In any case, I do like the words "conscious use of the sense of hearing" and being "attentive." To me this means listening with every part of ourselves so we can participate as fully as possible. Few of us are taught this skill, but it's well worth learning. In classes and workshops I teach, I talk about active listening in which the listener is as involved and aware as the speaker.

To me, active listening also means paying attention to my own inner voice and the voices of nature, mystery, and experience. To do this, I have to slow down and "smell the coffee."
Stop doing. Stop talking. Stop moving and planning. Just be. Here. Now. ...........Listen.
My second idea about this post was to listen to what others had to say about listening. So, I posted the question on my Facebook page the other day, and here's what several people had to say about listening:

Nature. Listening to nature. That is my tranquilizer. When my head is spinning, or even if I’m in a calm mood, I listen to nature. I remind myself to just sit, think for the moment, be in the moment.

It can be on my deck with my morning coffee, feeling the morning’s sun rays warming my skin. I close my eyes. It starts with the birds, listening to each one with their singing, chirping and cawing. Then the breeze, listening as it rustles the leaves on the trees. Bees pollinating the flowers. A dog barking in the distance. I focus on these, shutting out the rest of the world and give thanks that I am able to hear these little sounds.

It’s a pleasure denied by the unhearing. (My Grandfather became deaf in his later years and often wrote to me how he missed his hearing, especially the birds that visited his garden)
After six days of listening to the roar of an aircraft....I stood still this afternoon and listened to the wind. The sound is amazing.
I love the wind and all the melodies it creates.
i listened to my daughter's eyes...she spoke through with such wisdom and deep even though she can't talk, being only but 3 months old.....she really did talk volumes and i listened with all my heart!
A thought about listening. Listening is feedback and without feedback there is no course correction or appreciation. One thing that is certain is that if you are missing the feedback the feedback will usually become a little stronger or louder until hopefully you are listening.

When we practice the skill of listening, we are rewarded. When we share the gift of listening with others, they are rewarded, too. Thanks for asking, Ellen.
Wind and wisdom, birds and babies. Feedback to help with personal growth. I also love listening to the wind and the birds. I'm reminded that the inner calm which accompanies deep listening feeds me at many levels. I'm reminded of the strength and stillness being offered on the wind and in the eyes of infants who are still so close to the beginning of their time here.


ANN CARSON said...

s a long time expressive therapist I enjoyed this Kate and will send it on to Renia Tyminsky a specialist in ESL/pronunciation. She has done a lot of work with breathe training/hearing/listening

Kate Thompson said...

Thanks, Ann. I'm glad you enjoyed the post...even in its first messed up state! I'm not sure what happened with the formatting first time around, but it's fixed now. And thank you, too, for referring it to your friend and colleague.

Anonymous said...

Kate, I love the blog; nothing would make me happier than spending an afternoon with you. This is great, it gives me the feeling that we are together. Tyler Perry did an hour on his abuse with Oprah and after it they both agreed that they would do another hour for other men. Just to let you know that we are not the only ones thinking about this awful secret. Miss you. Ellen

Kate Thompson said...

Thanks so much, Ellen! I'm sure we'll manage a visit one of these days. I hope so, for sure.

I have to keep talking about the awful secret so that it loses some of its power. I didn't see the Oprah segment with the male survivors. I hope it was helpful to people.

Love your comments and suggestions!