Creative Meditation: Listening

Listening is an art like the understanding of poetry.

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When two people are talking, they’re often involved in their own private conversations, almost as if they’re separate from one another. We’ve all been in such a situation: so eager to speak that it’s as if we’re rushing to go to the bathroom. We have a deep need to be heard, to be recognized by another, to have our thoughts understood and ratified.

But that need can ironically narrow our world.

The next time you’re talking with another person, count the number of times you interrupt. Count the number of times you wait for a pause so that you can inject your opinion. Count the number of times you finish a sentence for the other person. Ask yourself if you’re listening so that you can respond or listening to understand what the other person is saying.

A crucial part of all creativity, of all wisdom, is the ability to be open to new influences. When you talk, you’re focused on assertion, on putting the imprint of your thoughts upon another. But when you listen — when you truly listen — you allow yourself to suddenly see the world through another’s eyes, to be changed.

Listening is an act of generosity, an act of exploration, an act of empathy. When you open yourself to listen to another and focus on them, you relinquish the needs of your ego, your expectations. When you listen, you don’t want anything, you transcend yourself to serve another, you show true respect.

Listening requires practice, though. You have to attune yourself to your instincts, your desire to be heard. You have to suspend judgement, receive another’s words, and try to understand what they’re saying from their point of view, not through the filter of your assumptions.

The psychologist Erich Fromm said that listening “is an art like the understanding of poetry.” Think about the careful attention a poem requires — how a poem’s meaning only unveils itself after several close readings, how words need to be scrutinized and deciphered, how a poem speaks through its nuances.

Listen to others, and you’ll discover their poetry. You’ll draw out their mysteries, you’ll feel the pulse of their truth, and you’ll be filled with their being. That is the gift to your creativity — to be infused with another’s spirit, another’s life, and to bring that energy to your art.

The irony is that only then will you be heard.

Grant Faulkner is the author of Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo and the co-host of the podcast Write-minded. His essays on creative writing have appeared in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer.

For more, go to grantfaulkner.com, or follow him on Twitter at @grantfaulkner.

Written by

Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, co-founder of 100 Word Story, writer, tap dancer, alchemist, contortionist, numbskull, preacher.

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