Originally appeared in Planet Jackson Hole

“Listening is a very deep practice. You have to empty yourself. You have to leave space in order to listen….” – Thich Nhat Hahn


You’re in a conversation with a friend, a partner or a group of people, and here’s what automatically tends to happen: As soon as the other person starts speaking, the mind immediately launches into a barrage of mental chatter. You might remember similar situations, or want to jump in and add your experience, or offer your opinion, give advice or even solve their problem.

At that point our own internal thoughts become so absorbing (a bit like going down the rabbit hole on the internet) that our attention is totally diverted from the other person. The ears are hearing the words, and we are not listening; we are having a conversation with ourselves. From that moment on, there is no personal connection or authentic communication. The other person always feels whether you are intensely interested in what they are saying, or not. When you are not present, it is hurtful to the speaker and a missed opportunity to know more about the other person and to connect with them.


On the other hand, deep listening is being fully present with what is happening in the moment without trying to control it or judge it. You are attending to the person who is talking with an open heart and mind, without formulating opinions, interpretations, solutions, ideas or suggestions. You are not even reflecting on any of your experiences or memories related to what they are sharing. This is what the opening quotation means about emptying yourself in order to be actively present. When the other person finishes speaking is the appropriate moment to ask if they’d like feedback, suggestions or to hear about your experiences … or not. And if not, this is not about you … so don’t take it personally. Know you have given them exactly what they needed; they felt heard because you were fully present.

The ability to put aside personal mind chatter and share your presence with someone else takes practice. It is deeply honoring to the other person, and it creates both connection and intimacy. Really listening is a gift you can generously give, and it is also one people universally appreciate and benefit from receiving.


  1. Not traveling around in your own mind when another person is speaking creates room for that person in your heart and mind.
  2. You are demonstrating to the other person that they matter to you.
  3. You are creating a non-judgmental, safe context for the other person to be their authentic self with you.
  4. Your welcoming energy gives the other person the pleasure and freedom of being seen for who they truly are.
  5. You are in control of your “monkey mind” and can therefore see them clearly.
  6. The other person gets to feel the beauty of your presence.
  7. It goes without saying, that when the tables are turned and you are the one talking and someone is truly present listening to what you are saying, you are the lucky one who feels met, seen and appreciated.


With more socializing and possibly more family time around the holidays, practicing deep listening is a gift that equally benefits you and the person(s) with whom you are in conversation. The late Stephen Covey has a quote which I want to share in concluding this article. “Listen and silent are spelled with the same letters…think about it.