Empathic Listening

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One of the greatest gifts we can give another human being is our unconditional presence. To do this well, we must be able to be receptive, without judgment or expectation, to put aside our own needs and concerns and be genuinely available in a warm, heartfelt manner. Yet we live in a culture that teaches and rewards us for being exactly the opposite: reactive, proactive, independent, assertive and opinionated. As a result, many people equate listening with passivity and weakness. We also live in a multi-sensory commercialized media world that invites us to be distracted from intimate connection with others. It’s wonderful that communication today can be lightning fast, yet email or instant messaging is a poor substitute for live, unconditional human presence. So how can we learn to be fully present with and for each other?

We can do this by learning to listen in a genuinely empathic way. Empathic listening integrates an attitude of childlike curiosity with the grace of a world-class ballerina, the compassion of Mother Theresa and the peace of Thich Nhat Hanh. When we listen empathically, we are fully available and present for the other. We have no preconceived notions about what’s going on with them. We approach them freshly, with Suzuki Roshi’s "Beginner’s Mind", where possibilities are many. We are not busy rehearsing our rebuttal to what they are saying, just waiting for a moment to break in and interrupt. We do not care if we are right and they are wrong. We have no need to defend ourselves or to prove ourselves brilliant, insightful or witty. We do have a burning desire to understand what the essence of this person is all about in this moment. We are pure awareness, soaking in the words but going far beyond the words and fully resonating with the other energetically.

At a workshop last year a couple had been struggling with communication issues. "I know how to listen," the man started defensively, obviously impatient and angry with his lover. "The

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