“Listening is an act of love”

I recently returned from a wonderful vacation road trip during which I had some good time to listen to a variety of the life all around me. I realized again how important listening is to me, how important listening is to engaging life fully, how important it is to connecting to others, to creating harmony in close relationships. Saying this seems like I’m stating the obvious, but I witness a lot of struggles in listening – and not being listened to is one of the primary complaints I hear from couples about their relationship.

David Isay, the creator of Story Corps, which is an independent nonprofit project whose mission is to honor and celebrate the lives of everyday Americans by listening to their stories, says that listening is an act of love. I think he is talking about particular kinds and ways of listening. The kind of listening that connects to another, which gives the message that the other is important to us, has value in our lives, and deserves the respect and regard of our attention.

Listening can be used for a number of things. We may do a lot of listening to a variety of media – television programs, music, or radio. We may listen to distract ourselves from something or someone, or to avoid feeling uncomfortable. We may listen to learn something, or we may listen to reinforce what we already believe or think. But when we develop and use our ability to listen in a way that the other person experiences being heard and understood, we are acting with love. Listening in this way to a friend, a loved one, and yourself – free of our filters to defend, fix, or avoid the truth – creates a new type of space between people. This is the kind of space that heals and transforms struggle and conflict, the kind of space that is infused with calm, the kind of space that expresses being fully present to experience the delight of the moment.

Three wonderful women from Toronto Mass Choir.

Three wonderful women from Toronto Mass Choir

On vacation I listened with awe and wonder to the roar of the Niagara Falls, to the many languages of the crowd around me. My listening at the jazz concerts in Toronto transported me to heights of thrill, delight, and pure joy. Listening care-fully to my husband Steve in our conversations as we drove from place to place created closeness between us that felt out of time and place. Listening to the morning birdsong and the evening play of children marked the passage of time each day. Listening to an old friend gave me new understanding and brought resolution to some long held questions.

Listening carefully with intention to connect, respect, and be present is an act of love. It can be simple and yet complex, flowing as a stream and deep as an ocean. It’s a lifelong practice that reaps abundant benefits.

My wonder question right now is, “How can I listen so that everyone and everything around me experiences love, care, and understanding?” Do you want to join me?

My best to you in all ways and always!

About the author

Suzanne Kilkus

Suzanne Kilkus is a Soto Zen meditation practitioner and teacher and has practiced as a therapist and counselor for over three decades. She is dedicated to assisting people in expanding their capacity for giving and receiving love, and for recognizing and expressing their basic goodness in everyday life. Her path to live with wholehearted compassion and care is an invitation to everyone. She is a teacher with Open Door Zen Community in Madison, WI.