Simply Listening is Enough

Posted on October 11th, 2017

‘Through Spiritual Direction, as directee and novice, I am learning that Simply Listening is accompanying others, still attentiveness, being a loving, hospitable and prayerful presence. There is no ‘agenda’ or goal. The soulful space is sacred, our director is the Holy Spirit and we are held by God. Triumphs and doubts, affirmation and growth points are welcome as a precious, unique life story is heard. Anything and everything can be spoken about or not.’

As a Spiritual Director in training it is essential for me to continually revisit how I listen and not only because it is a part of the Encounter programme. Why?

Listening is a core attitude, skill, behaviour and desire that I have been consciously and unconsciously developing over the past 20 years, in my personal and professional roles. From sister to relative, peer to peer, trainer to counsellor, wife to mother, practitioner to consultant, executive coach to facilitator, educator to mentor and now as a trainee Spiritual Director.

I was told to listen as a child, teenager and young adult but never taught how to do it well. Soon after reaching the age of 30, following a difficult period in my life, I trained as a coach and this was my first experience of Simply Listening to the outer world and my inner one.

Then, I would describe Simply Listening as a respectful intent to understand and take seriously what was said. To be patient, not interrupt and suspend my thoughts or replies. Increasingly, family members, friends, peers, clients, acquaintances and strangers talked to me about their problems, dreams and experiences of living and working. They seemed to value my warmth and the confidential, boundaried space that I was holding for them.

Being passionate about enabling others to learn, grow and transform, and fascinated by what makes people tick, I enjoyed listening. I could see those sitting with me visibly relax, their breathing deepened as burdens were shared, frowns disappeared, tears of sorrow became tears of relief. My contribution was sparing as I grew in confidence, I said less and listened more.

At times listening was difficult. When I was tired, distracted, fed up and wanted to be alone.

I popped in invisible earplugs particularly if the situations were painful, tragic and with no easy solutions. Words, emotion, tone, pace, volume, accent, gestures, facial expressions and body language deluged me, I wanted to switch off, run away, or enjoy the bliss of ignorance.

If I persevered, and stayed alert in those moments Simply Listening was a gift of being a non-judgemental presence. Clearing space for profound insight and voicing what was sensed.

Through Spiritual Direction, as directee and novice, I am learning that Simply Listening is accompanying others, still attentiveness, being a loving, hospitable and prayerful presence. There is no ‘agenda’ or goal. The soulful space is sacred, our director is the Holy Spirit and we are held by God. Triumphs and doubts, affirmation and growth points are welcome as a precious, unique life story is heard. Anything and everything can be spoken about or not.

I’ve joined a group of volunteer listeners at St Andrew Holborn. They’ve had a free Listening Service, since 2009, which is available to visitors, stressed out professionals, tourists, the homeless and unwell. During October, I’ll be doing my first session of a number, over a six-month period. I have no idea who will drop by or what will happen during the three-hour slot as I wait and pray in a quiet, beautiful, atmospheric church rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren.

Reassuringly, a still small voice within me whispers that Simply Listening is enough.

Grace Owen

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