I Hear You: Reflections on Reflective Listening

Written By Bob Hunt

The train sways as it changes track and the horns sound their warning as we approach a level crossing. There’s a din of multiple conversations as people recount stories from their day. In the ambient sounds no conversation truly stands out. It’s not a choir singing with one cohesive voice that would grab your interest. It’s more a cacophony of “bla, bla, bla.” Just as I'm about to tune out I see them; two women speaking to each other in sign language.

Image of person speaking with their hands
Photo: Joint Base Lewis McChord via flickr Creative Commons

They are silent and they communicate a great deal. Their conversation was potentially more public than if they were speaking. I couldn’t have heard them at that distance, but I could certainly read what their hands communicated. Well, I could if I knew more sign language. What really stood out for me were those moments when one woman mirrored the gestures of the other. That mirroring indicated that they “heard” each other.

At its essence spirituality is about conversation. Spirituality is about hearing. While spirituality may be spoken out loud, it can find its voice in many different forms. To be sure, people often think about it in terms of quiet contemplation. But as I listen to someone, I am often struck by his or her ability to communicate nonverbally. Humans possess the ability to keenly portray the things they cherish most about life, and do it by altering the look in their eyes, a simple tilt of the head, changes in breathing and, yes, by the movement of their hands.

From early childhood we are encouraged to talk. At times all the talking becomes a cacophony, a train ride of bla bla, bla and we, and those around us, tune out. Sadly we don’t really even take time to hear ourselves. I know that I benefit when someone mirrors back to me what they hear, and, at times, what they see me saying. I have learned that hearing and seeing what people are saying and being able to reflect that back to them is a privilege for me.