Mark Nepo was having lunch with a linguist from Nigeria, who marveled at the fact that there are seven thousand languages in the world. That we know of.
After their talk, later that night, Nepo had a realization: If there are seven thousand ways to speak, then there must be seven thousand ways to listen.
Listening goes beyond simply hearing words. Listening involves delving deeper to truly understanding ourselves and others. It involves slowing down and giving the speaker our fullest attention (without talking, texting, TV watching or being diverted by other distractions).
In his book Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close To What Is Sacred, Nepo, a poet and philosopher, describes listening as “the doorway to everything that matters. It enlivens the heart the way breathing enlivens the lungs. We listen to awaken our heart. We do this to stay vital and alive.”
Listening is how we relate to others and ourselves. It’s the building block to meaningful, sincere relationships, and the building block to a meaningful, sincere life.
In his book Nepo shares the myriad ways we can listen and live life more fully. Specifically, in each chapter, he features probing journal prompts and questions readers can ask ourselves. He also features prompts and questions we can discuss with our friends and family at the dinner table. Below, you’ll find a selection of inquiries to help you better listen to yourself and your loved ones.
Listening to Yourself
- Describe your first experience of listening. “Who or what were you listening to? What did you hear and how did it impact you?”
- What is one thing you know to be true? How have you kept this truth in your awareness?
- Describe a time when you weren’t seen or heard. What did this take away from you?
- Describe a time when you were seen and heard for precisely who you are. What did this give you?
- “Describe the face you show no one and the face you show the world. Without judging either, begin a conversation between the two.”
Listening to Others
- Explore your experiences with the word “yes.” What is your first experience of saying yes; your first disappointment with saying yes; your biggest reward; and what does it mean to say yes to life?
- Talk about a time when you were able to be yourself, fully, in front of a loved one.
- Talk about a time when you “changed your mind, your opinion, and what led you to do so. How did you grow from this experience?”
- Talk about a conversation in which what was left unsaid was greater than what was actually said. “Was this conversation deceptive or revealing?”
- “Look at your life and begin to tell the story of what you have wanted or still want and the story of what you’ve been given. How do they differ? How are they the same? What has each taught you?”
Fully listening to ourselves and to someone else can be challenging. Many distractions divert our attention, whether external or even internal. But once we do listen, really listen, it’s amazing the insights and memories we discover.