• Anna

Listening but not Hearing...

Updated: Nov 11

How often do you have a conversation with someone you know is only half-listening to you?

For example, I’m talking to a friend on the phone, whilst hearing them typing on their computer at the same time.

Or, I’m in the middle of speaking to someone, when they pick up their phone and start replying to a WhatsApp.

Without wanting to sound petty, I want to shout - are you listening to me?

Of course, the answer would be: ‘yes, keep going, I’m listening, only telling Joe how to feed the dog.’


Bizarrely enough though, when the boot is on the other foot, the people in question want my total concentration. They stop and wait for me to finish fiddling with my phone; they notice if the dog or cat distracts me and say so, in fact, they are unhappy and refuse to continue until they have my full and undivided attention. And rightly so!

This is a minor example of the unconscious behaviour ping-ponging its way through our society to the point when we are listening but not hearing. It is something which undermines our relationships and the potential for enjoying life.

Many of us don’t see the problem. My husband has boasted about my talent to know everything going on around a room buzzing with noise and information. But that was something I nurtured in what I like to term my, ‘previous life’. Then multitasking and carrying on a conversation with three people (one on the phone by text, one in front of you and the other by eves dropping on another conversation over the other side of the room) was an accomplishment!

But the reality is different.

Firstly, it is totally exhausting! Secondly, never being present for what is happening right in front of me means I cannot engage in a sincere and authentic way. And finally, I miss out on much of what is being said, some of which may be important, if not to me, to the person divulging it.

So I have made a pact with myself - stop it!

And not just multitasking. No, sometimes that is still useful, but I am choosing to be totally present, even for, or perhaps especially for, the mundane things in life.

It’s too easy to rush through the monotonous and repetitive, everyday menial tasks, as though once they are done, I can get on with life.

Not so! This IS life! These are activities which, however dull they might appear on the page, offer abundant opportunities for pleasure and enjoyment. And, there are many enjoyable things that I have been known to rush through too. Such as eating cake! Tea and cake with friends are one of my favourite things, but I have been known to stuff it all down, so busy talking, that it barely touches the sides, let alone stop to savour the flavour!

So, for me, I am attempting to stop dashing from one thing to another, in an endeavour to knock off all the things on my ‘to do’ list. There are moments, of course, when things have to be done with urgency, but that’s okay too.

Brother Phap Huu, Abbot of Plum Village Monastery, started by Zen Buddhist Master Thích Nhất Hạnh (Thay), recalls in a podcast called, ‘The Only Way Out Is In’, an occasion when he and several other monks were at an airport with Thay. They discovered they were at the wrong gate as the tannoy announced that their flight was closing. I don’t have the exact quote, but apparently, Thay looked at them and said; okay, now mindfully and with awareness… Run!

That is the key. To notice what we are doing as we are doing it. “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

I shall now go and savour a big fat piece of cake!

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