The Gift of Deeper Listening

The best gifts can’t be wrapped.

Being lovingly present with another person in a way that helps them attend more deeply to themselves and to the presence of God with them is a better gift than any material object.  Certain conversations are luminous in my memory, times when another person’s or a group’s listening and gentle questions have helped me express truth that I had been concealing even from myself.  I treasure the moments when others have helped me listen to hidden aspects of myself that I might otherwise have neglected, or encouraged me to pay attention to grace I’ve experienced or to fleeting guidance that has lighted my way on the path of faithfulness.

We can learn skills that help us listen to other people in a way that allows them to access and express the truth in their hearts.  First of all, we learn to quiet our own minds as we listen to another.  It’s natural for an inner commentary to take place when we hear someone speak, but we don’t have to give attention to that commentary.  We can let it go and learn to listen without judgment, analysis, or opinions.  We can be quietly present in a way that allows the sacredness of the other person and of the moment to fill our attention.  We can learn to listen not only to the words they say but also to the way in which they speak, the tone of voice, to their joy or sadness, their fear or enthusiasm.  We can pay attention to the language of their body, such as the arms folded over the chest, the constriction in the throat, or the radiance that comes when people are speaking their deepest truth.  We can attend, also, to the silent presence of what more wants to be said.

When someone shares their pains or challenges, most of us are quick to offer suggestions or opinions.  At times these can be helpful, especially when solicited, but a deeper kind of listening can help someone tune in to their own inner knowing and to divine guidance.  In the long run, helping another person to attend to the trustworthy source of wisdom within is far more helpful than suggestions, however wise.

Offering questions can be an important part of deep listening, if the questions are simple and their purpose is to help the speaker explore their inner knowing more fully.  Some questions ask for factual information.  Other questions invite the speaker to engage in intellectual reflection or analysis.  These questions have their uses, but another kind of question is designed to help someone pay attention to the movement of the Spirit within them, or to the work of God in their lives, minds, and hearts.  Our culture generally does not encourage us to pay attention inwardly, and most of us miss the subtle movements and and whispered guidance of the divine voice within.  A question that helps evoke our awareness and draw our attention to the presence of the divine is a great gift, along with our loving willingness to be with another person as they explore this.

Asking evoking questions requires self-discipline on the part of the listener, the discipline not to insert our own opinions or stories, the discipline of really being present for the sake of the other person’s discovery of their truth.  The one who offers the question must also be listening inwardly, as we search for the simple query that can invite our friend into deeper exploration and expression.

What seems to most help or hinder your attentiveness to God?

What images or phrases or scripture passages seem to be sources of guidance at this time?

In which situations do you feel you are most authentic and faithful to what you were most truly made to be?

If we pay attention carefully as the speaker tells us about their inner and spiritual experiences, we may notice that when they say something tears come, or a radiant smile.  At such moments the best way to help the speaker explore more deeply is simply to ask them to say more about where the tears or smile are coming from.   Or if they have described a moment of grace, we can invite them to return to that and say more about it.  When we help another person look more deeply–in a feeling rather than analytical way–at how God has been at work in them and in their life, or if we help them go back to a moment of grace and savor it, they may notice more about how the Spirit is with them, guiding, teaching, healing, or loving them.  This may unlock hidden insights or truths waiting to be brought into awareness and expressed.

What do you experience when you pray about what God is asking of you?

In this new 8 1/2-minute video by Rachel Guaraldi, several Friends speak about our experience of using evoking questions to help another person listen inwardly to the wisdom and divine guidance that is available there.

Evoking questions can be used in spiritual friendships, clearness committees, faithfulness groups, spiritual direction, and any situation in which there is an intention to help another person explore more deeply their experience and awareness of God and the divine presence.  It is a priceless gift, more valuable that diamonds, rubies, computers, cars, or anything material.

How is the Spirit working within you? What are you learning?

© 2020 Marcelle Martin

Marcelle’s new book A Guide to Faithfulness Groups explains what faithfulness is and how it can be cultivated by small groups that practice ways to listen inwardly together for divine guidance, a practice that holds great potential for supporting individuals of any faith in allowing the work of the Spirit to become manifest through them and their communities.

Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey describes the transformational spiritual journey of the first Quakers, who were inwardly guided by God to work and witness for radical changes in their society. Focusing on ten elements of the spiritual journey, this book is a guide to a Spirit-filled life, designed to be a resource for both individuals and groups to explore their spiritual experiences. It describes the journey of faithfulness that leads people to actively engage in God’s work of making this world a better place for all. Our Life is Love has been reviewed by Marty Grundy in Friends Journal, by Carole Spencer in Quaker Religious Thought, and by Stuart Masters on A Quaker Stew.

Both books are available from Inner Light Books in hardback, paperback, and ebook. (An excerpt and a study guide are also available on that website for Our Life is Love: the Quaker Spiritual Journey.)  To order multiple copies of either book, postage free, contact us.

Find a Quaker Meeting near you: Quaker Finder

About friendmarcelle

A Quaker writer, teacher, workshop leader, and spiritual director, I've traveled widely to facilitate workshops and retreats about the spiritual journey. I'm the author of Our Life is Love: The Quaker Spiritual Journey, and A Guide to Faithfulness Groups.
This entry was posted in All of Life is Sacred, Contemplative spirituality, Facing Life with Faith, Following a Leading, Mysticism, Quaker Faith Today, spiritual practices and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Gift of Deeper Listening

  1. Quite lovely and inspiring, Marcelle. Thank you. I’ve shared this with Middlebury Friends.

  2. Rachel says:

    Recently a person close to me has been talking about a difficult situation and decisions she’s thinking about to do with it. She wants both to have someone listen to her fears etc, and my opinion about what she says. It’s very easy for me to offer opinions and suggestions! – but as you say, helping people to trust their inner wisdom might be more useful long-term (though I’ve found other people’s opinions very useful in the past in helping to develop my inner wisdom). I try not only to make suggestions, or give my opinions, but to ask questions, reflect to her what I can hear she knows for herself, urge her to trust the feelings/instincts she’s telling me about. What I’d like to know is how you would translate some of your questions above to be useful when listening to someone for whom invoking concepts such as “God” and “what you were most truly made to be” would be meaningless and off-putting?

  3. Thanks for your question, Rachel!
    For people for whom God, Spirit, and purpose language is meaningless or off-putting, you might ask: “What is your intuition telling you about this?” “Have you had dreams or images related to this, or do particular quotes or songs come to mind when you think about this?” “What does your heart have to say about this situation (as opposed to your thinking mind)?” “What’s your deepest truth?” “How does your body feel when you consider that option?” “What are you afraid of and why?” “What is your best hope for this situation?”

    • Rachel says:

      Thanks Marcelle, good questions. One thing that she seemed to find helpful was a question about what she might think is most important if she were looking back to now from the end of her life. A question I find it helpful to ask myself is, if I had 2 years/6 months left to live (with reasonable energy at least for most of it), what would I do? There can be good reasons for not doing now what I would do if I knew I only had 6 months left to live, but it nevertheless helps to discover what is most important and to think about why I would drop some things and do others. There was a marvellous year in my life when I wouldn’t have done anything different at all!

  4. Before I feel able to ask an evoking question I need to feel settled into being present with Spirit. Presence comes when I can listen with the ears of Spirit, look and see with the eyes of Spirit, and feel love and compassion for the other.

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