An impressive few can be attentive and can listen well during every moment of their life -paying attention to and hearing the meaning of a moment no matter what that moment is. But most of us need a little help! Most of us forget to listen deeply…unless we’re really intentional about it.
This spiritual exercise develops our ability to listen well. Try to experience all three opportunities over the month.
The First 5 Minutes of Listening: To the Everyday
Choose an everyday, ordinary, experience: commuting, cooking, sitting in the park, sitting at the doctor’s waiting room, Tim Hortons, waiting in the line at Longos. While in one of these places, simply do nothing but listen for 5 minutes.
Don’t try to analyze while you are listening. Keep bringing your attention back to the sounds you are hearing. Just listen.
Afterward, take some time just to breathe and let it sink in—maybe this will be a minute, maybe you need a day. But after you take the time to let the 5 minutes of listening digest, write down what you “heard”-not every detail of what your heard, but what stuck out for you, what “spoke” to you. What sounds among the many sounds had “something to say” or “grabbed you.” Here are a few questions to help you with your reflection:
1. What sound had you not noticed before? What sound had you been missing?
2. What sound did you most like? Most dislike?
3. How did you feel when you were done?
The Second 5 Minutes of Listening: To Another Person
Really listen to an important person in your life. Your spouse, child, parent, neighbor, close co-worker. Whoever you pick, the important part is that you try to truly listen. You know what we mean. We hear the words, but often we simply do not listen. So for 5 minutes, let their words be what matters most. Don’t think ahead about what you plan to say in response. Keep your attention on their words, their face. Don’t offer solutions or advice. Ask helpful questions that help them keep talking and express themselves, but do not interrupt. Maybe just let the silence be; let them fill it when it happens rather than you rushing in. But for five minutes, pay attention to someone else!
(Warning: don’t tell them that this is a church assignment! Don’t ask them out for coffee so that “I can listen to you for five minutes.” Just find five minutes during a naturally arising conversation to focus your attention and ears in this intentional way.)
And then, like before, take some time afterward to let the experience sink in, then write down what you “heard” and what happened. Here are some questions to help:
1. Was it hard? Why? Did you have to fight the temptation to judge? To interrupt? To break the silence? To give them advice? Did you not know how to listen? Did they not seem to know how talk? Or know how to trust talking?
2. What surprised you?
3. How did you feel? How did they seem to feel?
The Third 5 Minutes of Listening: To Voices Usually Tuned Out
Finally take 5 minutes to open your ears to that which you usually –intentionally or unintentionally—close your ears. Think broadly. Maybe it is the voice of that conservative talk show host who shouts all the time. Maybe it is one of those “stupid TV shows” that you think are the source of everything wrong with our culture. Maybe it is the voice of someone left behind: the homeless person by the subway, the immigrant who can’t find employment. Think carefully about what this will be. The process of choosing may be just as rich as the process of actually listening.
As you reflect on this 5 minutes of listening, be sure to ask yourself: What happened to me as I listened?
In the Small Groups
In our small group meetings, each person will share their experience of just one of these three exercises. Which was the most rich and compelling? Why? Each person will share without interruption from others or getting into a dialogue – it’s a time for listening well!