View in Browser


Guest Article

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?

By Scott Rogers, JD, MS

Director, Mindfulness in Law Program & Lecturer in Law at the University of Miami School of Law

One of the most popular holiday songs opens with a reminder that can be so very important in terms of our productivity, connection with others, and well-being. Because listening is a natural capacity we can bring to every moment of our lives, we’ll explore some tips on listening that you may find helpful this holiday season.


Listening to the World Around Us

Mindfulness is often described as non-judgmental awareness. It is a quality borne of wisdom and compassion. And it can be elusive. The challenge is that we can be so quick to evaluate, judge, and criticize that we miss out on the nuance, complexity, and beauty of that which is before us, be it an idea, a creative expression, or another human being.

We can practice mindful listening to our environment—the wind, the rustle of leaves, birds, airplanes overhead, the ocean surf, love songs, footsteps, and the like—with the aspiration of being open and receptive to what arises and passes away. It can be exhausting to continually assess everything that crosses our path—regardless of whether we are asked for our opinion or have any control over the matter. Listening, as an end in itself, is savoring the moment. It’s taking a load off and is replenishing.

The Practice

Krista Tippet reminds us that “listening is about being present, not just about being quiet.”

Every now and again, pause and listen as if with ears that are hearing for the first time, open to the mystery of the moment unfolding before you. Close your eyes if you’d like. Take a few slower, deeper breaths to settle the body and mind. There is nothing to do. Be with your experience, as it is; open, receptive, curious. Even now.  


Listening to Another Person

It is common for us to interrupt each other. It happens frequently and has become so commonplace that it often goes unnoticed. We miss out on important information, connecting at a deeper level, and can send the message that we’re not paying attention or what we have to say is more important. Steven Covey suggests that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Conversations, even when we disagree, if we are listening with an open heart and mind can be connecting and satisfying. So, what might we do about this?

The Technique

“Do Not Interrupt” (DNI) is a listening technique that invites you to hold the intention to not interrupt a person while talking with them. If you give this a try, you're likely to find that you interrupt anyway. But at least you're a little bit more aware. And in time you will interrupt less. You will become more aware of the reasons why you interrupt things like feeling agitated, worried, in some way unhappy about what you're hearing, or so excited that you feel it's necessary to interject. With this insight and experience, you develop greater resilience in the face of these impulses and become more deliberate and intentional in your speech and manner. If you’re wondering if it is okay to interject when someone is talking, the answer is, of course, yes. A conversation is like a jazz performance. Every voice matters and the experience is enriched when all are heard. In jazz, it is crucial that each performer listens deeply throughout the performance so that they spontaneously know when to join in, when to pause, and when to solo. Musicians join in when doing so is responsive to the moment—to the shared experience. This ability arises more naturally when we practice listening.


Listening to Ourselves

The holidays tend to be a season where thoughts and feelings run both joyful and somber. There is a poignancy in the air that touches us deeply. Interactions with family, friends, and colleagues can be a delight and painful. It is easy to get carried away by our inner experience and do something to feel better, “fixing” a problem that may not need fixing or distancing ourselves from others. Joseph Goldstein, an important mindfulness teacher tells the story of Mother Teresa responding to the question of what she said when she prayed to God. “I don’t say anything. I listen,” she replied. And what does God say to you? to which she replied, “God listens too.” However, you may regard this story, it points to the power of simply listening.

It can be helpful during this time of year to pause and listen to ourselves. You can listen for no reason or to glimpse the part of you that is struggling or experiencing delight. It’s a few moments of solitude and quiet reflection that opens the doorway to becoming a little more present for the unfolding of this precious life, and the gift of connecting to each other and those we love.

Click here to read the full Mind and Matter Holiday Edition.