When God speaks, do we hear Him or do we listen to Him? Can we do both at the same time? Is it possible to train your ears and mind … and heart … to both hear and listen?
Hearing and listening are two different things, both referring to our sense of sound. Our ears catch all the different sounds, the audible vibrations of life around us, and we hear them as noise – loud, soft, near, far, all at the same time, a cacophony of NOISE.
Listening is the skill, and oftentimes the art, of tuning in to the sound and consciously processing the ‘noise’ with the intent of understanding and feeling the message of the ‘noise’.
Let’s say a friend is talking with you about the difficulties in her workplace. While she is complaining about the huge workload her boss has suddenly assigned her to do, you are reminded of and begin to make mental lists of all the urgent errands you need to do – groceries, pay telephone bill, pick up your son from his football practice. You are hearing her but not listening to her.
In school, we learned about the three kinds of listening – perceptive listening, emotional listening, and sensuous listening. But as we grow up and move out into the world we tend to blend everything together and forget these different levels of listening.
Perceptive listening is when we deliberately move from hearing to listening. Instead of just letting the noise swirl around us, we shut out it out and focus our complete attention on something or someone. Our radio is on, the TV of our neighbor is blaring, the dogs are barking, but when one of our children runs to us with a problem, don’t we tune out the rest of the world and focus all our attention on listening to our child’s story with love and concern? This is perceptive listening.
A song on the radio triggers a memory that brings tears to my eyes. My grandchildren burst into our home bringing laughter and hugs. Sitting on the terrace under the mango tree with early morning birdsong filling the air quiets my soul. This is emotional listening — when a particular sound instantly transports you to another dimension of time and space in your memory resulting in an upsurge of feelings, of emotions, of a stirring in your heart.
Senuous listening is when we almost unconsciously respond to a stimulus of our senses. Happy music makes my feet and body sway with the beat. I am calmed by the soothing patter of summer rain on the leaves of the tree outside my window. Sharing a heart-tugging experience makes me want to reach out to hold a hand or offer an embrace.
Hearing is allowing oneself to be bombarded with the noise and fury of the world without necessarily understanding or feeling. You rationalize “Oh, it is just noise!”
Listening is much more than hearing. Listening is an experience that begins with focusing one’s attention, triggering mind-level understanding, and expanding into heart-level comprehension and compassion. Thus I am beginning to understand that all kinds of noise, each little or big noise has a message for us. All I need to do is focus and listen.
Why am I writing about this? Lately I have been having to remind myself to focus, to listen with the intent to understand, to listen with my heart. And I am discovering that when I really really really listen, life becomes more colorful, more meaningful, less stressful and more enjoyable. And the bonus here is that by really, really, really listening I am able to hear God’s voice more clearly and more often.
Try listening … not just with your ears and your mind. Practice listening with your heart! When filtered through your heart, God’s voice is sweet and loving, strong and gentle. — By Nancy R. Catan, BCBP Manila