Just Listening

Plains around Segovia

Plains around Segovia

I heard the same message twice recently, in both cases second-hand – from someone who had spoken to the person in question.

In the first case, someone who had become very ill said he was a bit fed up with everyone coming around and telling him about their illness experiences.

What he needed was that they just listened to him.

In the second case someone told me about a person who had separated from her husband, and said the same – all she got to begin with was everyone ‘sympathising’ by telling her about their own relationship problems or break-ups. But she just wanted someone to listen.

I think we all do this because it seems like empathy, or because it’s so hard not to say ‘me too’. But clearly in both cases, the person just needed loving listening – someone just to hear what they were going through, and that’s that!

I was very struck by that. This week a friend told me about a health problem with his mother, very similar to something my mother went through. The natural thing would have been to say “my mother had that too…” etc etc… but I remembered to keep quiet and just listen without adding my story as well, and I’m sure it was the right decision. He seemed happy that I had just really listened.

I really believe in the power of just listening – certainly when I just listen to my wife when she needs it, instead adding my point of view, or becoming defensive about something, the difference is amazing.

We have been many times to Plum Village in France to hear the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh speak, and he emphasised this over and over again – just listen, it’s incredibly healing for the other person. Recently I found a comment on the Plum Village website that really struck me also:

Dear Thay [Thich Nhat Hanh], I want to say thank you for your help!

Summer 2014 I was in Waldbröl to hear your speech. Two years long I had no contact with my son (33 years old). He had accused me of being guilty for his problems in life and avoided contact since then. At the beginning of summer 2014 he wrote me a letter full of accusations. I was totally shocked and sad because after the separation from my husband, his father, I had tried to do the best for my children who I loved so much. And I suffered so much. So I did not know how to react and how to come into contact with my son again.

Then I heard you, Thay. The first sentences: you talked about a father and his sons who hadn´t have contact to each other for a long time. Then your advice: Listen, listen carefully. This I did. I went to a therapy with my son and listened. We had quite a number of therapy lessons and more and more I understood my son better and he me.

Since then we see each other regularly and have good talks. It gave me back my happiness. I feel so much obliged to you, dear Thay, and can´t thank you enough.

9 thoughts on “Just Listening

  1. Hi Ben

    Great post and Plum Village which I never heard of looks very interesting. There is no need to post this comment but I just wanted to suggest a place to you when you are looking for new places to explore. Last weekend I came across the lovely town of Miravet in Tarragona and this rural house http://miravet.info/elbalcodemiravet/en/ with one bedroom for guests. It’s a spectacular retreat and one I think you would like. How I came to notice the hotel was due to some beautiful choral music they were playing and that I could hear from nearby while I was admiring an amazing view of the river and surrounding countryside as the sun went down. I was so taken with the moment that I ended up writing to the owners to thank them for `the moment´. They were very pleased and surprised to receive my message and in thanking me they shared with me the details of the music I heard. It was by Bernat Vivancos from Barcelona, his album BLANC – Coral Works with the Latvian Radio Choir. Check him out online as I also think you might find him interesting and his music a perfect soundtrack to nature which you love.


  2. I think it was Thich Nhat Hanh who said something like this: there is no trauma that can’t be healed just by nonjudgmental listening, without an urge to say something. Just listening and saying I understand you is, all the person in front of you needs.


    1. Hi Ken, that it a very stunning casa rural indeed! Thanks for that! Thanks too for the link to the music, it really is very beautiful. I’m listening to it now 🙂


  3. Hi Ben
    I enjoyed reading your article.
    I see you have been a few times to Plum Village in France to hear the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh speak. I am sure it must have been just a fantastic experience!
    I have read quite a few of his books and they all inspired me big time.
    I believe Effective Listening is extremely important and can help the happy level of our life.
    A little while ago I wrote a post about that. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it with you and having also your feedback. http://howtobehappy.guru/can-effective-listening-improve-the-happy-level-of-our-life/
    Take care


Comments are closed.