The best gift: yourself

We sometimes spend considerable time and money looking for just the right present for friends or family.

We run around the mall, stumble into stores, check the Internet for something that will send the right message.

Yet, the best present doesn’t require money, time or thought. One of the best gifts is listening — being truly present without the mind racing to find an answer to something that has not yet been said.

It’s the gift of self.

Most of us don’t listen; we wait, thinking about what we’ll say when it’s our turn to speak again. Most of the time, we’re barely aware that another person is present other than as a receiver for our transmissions.

We have inverted the reminder we received from our parents: people have two ears and one mouth so they can listen twice as much as they speak.

We ignore that admonition because we fear if we stop speaking, we will cease to exist and fold back into the void like a cartoon character or the Cheshire cat.

Listening seems like such an easy thing to do: just sit there and not say anything — even in our own minds. Just be present with our whole self.

Yet, there are so few good listeners. Maybe we’re suspicious or afraid of silence and spew forth words to bridge the awkward spots, forgetting that we learn by listening. Knowledge speaks and wisdom listens or we become wise by listening, like the owl:

A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard
Why can't we all be like that wise old bird?

An open mind, like an open hand, can grasp anything, but a closed mind, like a fist, can hold little.

We’ve all received the gift at least once, when we felt special just being in the presence of someone who didn’t have any agenda other than to be just there, as if they were an immense ocean of calm into which we were invited to swim for as long as we liked.

There are lots of professional listeners — pastors, psychologists, psychiatrists — but we go to them to get fixed, instead of uncovering our own truth.

A good listener allows us to come to the realization that there is nothing to fix, that we are already whole.

Like everything else, listening is a skill, one at which we can get better if we practise, but it is a skill we once had, so we can re-learn it.

The hard part will be not judging or giving advice

Listening was one of the many things we left behind with our trucks and dolls from childhood. While children don’t have a long attention span — then again, neither do most adults — but when they’re interested, they listen with their whole being, enraptured.

To listen like a little child means to be actively present, but not-in-your-face present as though we are a mid-wife to a reluctant idea. We want to cut the umbilical cord before the birthing process is finished, to hurry it along.

“If we try to listen we find it extraordinarily difficult because we are always projecting our opinions and ideas, our prejudices, our background, our inclinations, our impulses; when they dominate we hardly listen at all to what is being said,” wrote spiritual master Jiddu Krishamurti.

“In that state, there is no value at all. One listens and therefore learns, only in a state of attention, a state of silence, in which this whole background is in abeyance, is quiet; then, it seems to me, it is possible to communicate.

“(Real) communications can take place only where there is silence.”

Since males and females listen differently, even in long-term relations — maybe that should be especially in long-term relationships — there is little silence, unless it is the quiet of resentment.

When the female expounds on some problem, she often doesn’t want advice, just a listener. But the male fixer immediately looks for the solution and with good intentions, suggests how to remedy the situation.

Once we have mastered the art of listening to others, we can make the big leap and start tuning in to ourselves.

Words are always pouring though our minds, but we don’t pay attention; it’s like a broken CD stuck on the same song and it keeps us from listening to what lies deeper, to the body, the essence, the soul

“Listening to the silence awakens the dimension of stillness within yourself, because it is only through stillness that you can be aware of silence,” Eckhart Tolle writes in Stillness Speaks.

“Wisdom comes with the ability to be still. Just look and just listen. No more is needed.”

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About the Author

Ross Freake, a former managing editor of The Daily Courier, has worked at 11 newspapers from St. John's to Kamloops. He is the author of three books and the editor and ghost writer of many others.

He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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