Schultz observed the conversation between Andy and me last Thursday. First he looked at Andy as my friend spoke, then Schultz watched me as I spoke. Schultz is Andy’s German Shepherd.
I commented on Schultz’s behavior because I have rarely seen the dog act that way. Andy explained that his dog always watches him talk, but has only recently begun to concentrate on certain people when they talk. He smiled at Schultz, then the dog walked to my friend’s easy chair in order to receive a pat on the head. “I think that he likes you.”
Andy believes that Schultz doesn’t merely hear people, but listens to us. Of course, Schultz cannot comprehend sentences in the way humans do. While the dog may recognize his own name and a few commands, Schultz listens to the tonal quality and inflection of humans when we speak. He may even pick up on subtle visual cues, too.
I called out Schultz’s name then the canine faced me and cocked his head to one side. I smiled, then Schultz came to my side expecting to be petted. That was one sequence Schultz has been familiar with since puppyhood. Years ago, Andy said I should smile at Schultz whenever I wanted to show affection to his dog.
This morning, remembering Schultz’s interactions with Andy and me, reminded me of people who don’t really pay attention and listen to others in conversations. They put on an act by performing the expected eye-contact and gestures. They’re actually thinking about what they will say when it is their turn to say something. To actually listen to what you are saying, interferes with the pretense of looking like they’re listening to what you’re saying. To be honest, this is something we have all done.
The act of listening can draw us closer to one another. We learn about one another and empathize with each other, too. When we only pretend to listen, we only know what we already know but don’t learn anything new. We remain divided from each other. You might say that pretending to listen isn’t even as effective as the way Schultz, the German Shepherd, listens. At least the dog pays full attention.
Then, there is listening to the silence during conversation. When both parties in a conversation spontaneously stop speaking for awhile, there is a meaningful period of quietude. This silence is most profound when even one’s “monkey mind” stops the inner monologue and thinking pauses. It’s that silence when we are sincerely listening that brings out the full meaning of the words.
When we are comfortable enough to allow lengthy stretches of silence, we know we are in the company of a trustworthy, good friend. Have you noticed that when this beautiful silence occurs in confidential conversation with a pal that some sort of psychological healing takes place? When you look into each other’s eyes, we can almost see the gears turning in one another’s minds.
The ability to listen rather than merely hear is valuable regarding the ability to listen to instrumental music and derive understanding from it. This quality is also present when we are outdoors and deeply listen to nature.
Whether it is listening to another human or listening to something else, the act of listening is a simple way to enhance one’s life.