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Enliven Your Listening

Guest Author: 
Janice Lynne Lundy

I am a quote lover from way back. I’ve been collecting them since I was a teenager, recording them in my journals. I don’t do anything special with them, simply re-read them on occasion. Though I often find that they initiate a “remembering” in me—the recall of an “important something” that I may have forgotten, like how to stay calm, forgive, or let go.

Lately, I’ve been collecting quotes on listening. On some level I know that while the ability to listen empathetically is often a natural gift, it is also a commodity that needs ongoing attention and cultivation. As spiritual companions, listening is key to what we do. We are “professional listeners.” 

But even we can become inattentive or halfhearted in our listening. This happens for any number of reasons: tiredness, overwork, personal difficulties, distracted thinking, overburdened emotions, or compassion fatigue. When we experience any of these our ability to listen, to receive the stories of others, may be hampered. We may need a numinous nudge, a tune-up, a jumpstart, to get our ability to listen with openhearted attention back on track.

A good quote on listening can reignite a fading flame; remind us of the sacred call we first heard to embrace this charism in the first place. It can refresh a flagging spirit and rejuvenate our sense of purpose so that we feel eager and ready to sit, receive, and reflect back once more.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes about listening when it comes to spiritual direction, with a few personal thoughts about the actual remembering they may bring.  

“Listen. Make a way for yourself. Stop looking in the other way of looking.”
                                                                                       —Jelaluddin Rumi

As a spiritual companion, I can get distracted. I can lose my focus and become lost in thoughts about “me” or “mine.” I do not have perfect listening. Rumi reminds me to employ mindfulness. Stop, look, and listen to yourself, he might say, and bring yourself back to the precious present.

“The deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless ... beyond speech ... beyond concept.”
                                                                                       —Thomas Merton

While sitting with someone in spiritual direction, lacking vigilance, we may find ourselves doing more talking than listening. I know that I certainly have fallen prey to this. We are used to talking all day long. Our need to talk can be quite habituated. Merton helps us remember that the deepest connection is made when we hold the space for knowing beyond words—the movement of the Spirit—and not through the movement of our own lips.

“When you listen generously to people they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time.”
                                                                                       —Rachel Naomi Remen 

How wonderful to be reminded that meaningful spiritual direction happens, not as a result of anything we may say or do, but by the space that is created for someone else to speak their story. Often what we hear is something shared aloud for the first time. What an entrustment to receive their sacred tale! Remen’s thought jolts me into sitting more upright, listening more acutely, so that I can be as present as possible to this tender unfolding.  

I am sure you have favorite quotes about listening, too. I certainly would like to hear them so I can record them on my heart, and also in my journal. Please share them in the comments section. We can all use reminders to be present and open, awake and aware, so that our ministry and service to others does not become stagnant.

And if by chance it does, it’s not something about which to be self-critical. We are human. We will stumble and fall. We need those numinous nudges now and then to enliven us because, like anyone in any helping profession, there may be times when we are unfocused or weary. If this happens to you, as it sometimes happens to me, perhaps a well-placed quote will guide you back to center where compassion, hospitality, and generosity unfailingly await us.

Janice Lynne Lundy is a spiritual director and mentor with an inter-spiritual focus, an educator, and the author of six spiritual growth books including, Your Truest Self: Embracing the Woman You Are Meant to Be and My Deepest Me: A 30-Day Guided Journey. She serves as adjunct staff at Dominican Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, leading women’s contemplative programming and retreats, offering spiritual direction, and mentoring spiritual directors in training. Jan is currently working on her doctorate in spiritual direction. Her life motto is “Believe, Breathe, and Be Well.”


Sr Jacque Schroeder 's picture
Submitted by Sr Jacque Schroeder (not verified) on

When you rearrange the letters in the word LISTEN, you find ... SILENT ... LETS IN ... It reminds me that I need the quality of a silent heart that lets in the Holy Spirit. Then all is well.

Gina Marie Mammano's picture
Submitted by Gina Marie Mammano (not verified) on

Your article was a perfect part of my preparation to see my directee today. The reminder that "spiritual direction happens, not as a result of anything we may say or do, but by the space that is created for someone else to speak their story" was just right. Thank you! My listening quote to share is from David Whyte: "All those years forgetting
how easily you can belong to everything simply by listening."

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