‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:’
Are you a good listener or a good talker? Is your preference to listen to others as they tell their story and unburden, or do you prefer to have others listen to you?
There’s a place for both, of course, but you may have found it hard sometimes to listen to another person unburdening, just as you may be disappointed when it seems that others don’t listen to you.
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.
Walter de la Mare’s poem describes an imaginary scene of the traveller who presumes he is heard, even though no-one answers.
I wonder how often you feel you have not been heard, yet it may be that someone was paying attention.
While the saying “Remember we were given two ears but only mouth” is a healthy reminder to listen more, I think it’s true to say that we can use our two ears in many different ways.
Hearing and listening are two very different abilities:
I am currently sitting in a coffee shop, and I can hear a cacophony of sounds: a tap running, the clink of china, a teaspoon clattering on a hard surface, some background music, as well as overlaid snippets of conversations. Listening, I realise the song being played is Strawberry Fields by the Beatles; transferring my antenna to a nearby conversation I overhear a family group discussing what to choose from the lunch menu; elsewhere a baby squeals, a peal of laughter rings out from another table.
If someone was sitting opposite me now, I must confess I would struggle to listen well to anything they are saying; distracting sights and sounds would jostle to gain my attention and my less than perfect auditory function would not help, either. However, if I was sitting with that same person in a quiet space, alone together, I know that I would stand a chance of being able to give my attention to what that person might wish to share.
“I hear you” can carry different meanings, can’t it?
It may be a simple acknowledgement that our ears have received the sounds communicated by the other person (which in itself is a miracle of science!). It could mean that we have processed the information we have received, for example, when arranging a time to meet again. But it could also mean “I have heard what you said and want you to know that I think I understand what you expressed” – in situations when someone is speaking about a significant incident or feeling.
For me, the need to be heard, in this last sense, is something that became very important when, many years ago, I experienced a breakdown in my mental health, brought on by burnout. Fortunately, there were people around me who provided this, the time and space for me to unpack my baggage and be heard in an accepting and supportive environment.
Maybe you’re in that place at the moment where you would appreciate a listening ear as you try and make sense of stuff in your life: perhaps you have recently (or not so recently) been bereaved – someone close to you has died and you are, understandably, dealing with the grief that you feel; it could be that a change in circumstances, such as a move to a new home or a change in physical health, has affected you more deeply than you expected; or perhaps Covid-19 has made you lose confidence.
These, and many other situations, may have brought you to a place where you could benefit from the caring attention of others. The Joy Club provides a monthly Listening Ear session, usually on the last Monday, and you would be very welcome to come along. This hour session is intended to be a safe space where we can listen to each other, and share our feelings in a way that will be heard. Anything you choose to share (and there is no requirement to say anything) is held in confidence by the others, some of whom may have their own wisdom and experience to offer in response. However, this is intended, primarily, as somewhere any of us can open up a little, and be heard.
There is an opportunity for some to meet with me afterwards for a short 1:1 if that might be helpful.
Is this something you might consider coming along to?
Peter is one of our pastoral specialists at The Joy Club. If you would like to find out more about joining Peter’s next Listening Ear session or book your place now, please click here.