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The Art of Radical Listening

How often do you really listen without filtering?

Unmitigated, unprocessed listening — no labeling, no judgments, no interpreting — is something very rare.

Most of the time you're probably judging, criticizing and filtering reality based on your conditioning of what's right and what's wrong. Not much actual listening is being done when you're forming conclusions before any awareness occurs.



Have you ever noticed that most of the time when you're having a conversation with someone you're formulating a response while they're talking, thinking about what you're going to say next? Much of the time you're just waiting for them to finish so you can get a word in. Not much listening being done there.

But this happens in many more situations than just conversation...

  • You formulate an opinion about a person based on their clothing, weight, speech, mannerisms, without even considering it.
  • You decide that you'll fail at something before you even start.
  • You determine how an interaction will go before considering how you actually want it to be.
  • You believe that things won't change because that's the way they've always been.

These are all examples of forming conclusions before you've actually tested anything. No listening, no observing of what is is taking place.

And I have to say, that kind of sucks. It holds us back from truly being alive. When all we do is respond based on our conditioning we're always living in the past. We might as well be dead.

Transforming the way we listen

We can have more intimate connections with those we care about when we truly and deeply listen before beginning to formulate our response. We can listen to ourselves more deeply and discover what we truly need to thrive rather than repeating the same patterns.

But listening goes beyond just others speaking and our own thoughts.

We can listen...

  • With our intuition and curiosity (rather than repeating patterns).
  • With our touch.
  • We can listen by feeling.
  • Barefoot, with our feet kissing the earth.
  • Watching the light dance through the leaves of a tree.

There are many possibilities for true, unfiltered listening.

When we truly listen we can...

  • Perceive things we might have previously overlooked.
  • Show someone that we truly care (undivided attention is a radical gift).
  • Experience what it's like to be alive.
  • Move beyond conflict.
  • Break free of our conditioning and limitations.
  • See things for what they are, without attachment.

It's pretty incredible the potential real listening has. It's also a nice addition to the ordinary radical's toolkit of mindfulness, meditation, and remembrance. While I've found mindfulness, meditation and remembrance (remembering who you really are) to be incredibly powerful, sometimes listening is a much better tool for the job. I find that when I just focus on listening I'm not thinking so much about whether or not I'm doing it right. As much as I try to release judgment I still tend to think "Am I really doing this mindfulness thing, right? Could I have been like super-ultra mindful instead of just kinda mindful?" The lens of listening tends to eradicate that for me really quick. I like that.

Listening and curiosity I've found tend to go really well together also. They're both great at dissolving assumptions.

But the most important part of radical listening is not trying to do it right. You may have tried to meditate before and stopped because you didn't think you were doing it right. You weren't calm enough, focused enough, silent enough... blah blah blah. Screw that. Do it wrong.

That's the approach I take, I'm okay with doing it wrong. I tend to make much more progress that way since I'm not judging myself the entire time and getting frustrated. I think it will help you you too.

What do you think? Have you ever applied radical listening to your life? How has it worked for you?

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Do it wrong

Love that advice - its' so easy to get hung up on doing it "right" but there really isn't a right at all .do it wrong is really empowering advice. Great article man!


thanks for the challenge

listening may possibly be the the most revolutionary (and difficult) thing i've ever tried to do do.

i had this narrative that i was a good listener when i was growing up, because i was quiet while other people talked. but i had no idea what listening was. until i started trying to listen with the context that this practice teaches.  really shut off the internal commentary, the preconceptions, the judgments. be totally present to the speaker, what their words are saying and what they are saying that lies beneath the words too. whoa, that is hard!

for a lifetime i secretly nursed a hatred for my stepmother, and then suddenly last year, i was particularly angry with her for kicking my brother out on the streets again, and i finally called her after years of judgmental silence... and was broken apart by just LISTENING. i didn't even intend to. it just happened. i dropped by to visit with her yesterday, and i continue to be shocked by the total absence of anger. there is just deep compassion for what she is going through right now.  (her son -my brother - is on the streets again, schizophrenic, in and out of psych wards and jail).


also, listening to criticism without throwing up those defenses can be mind-blowing. there's no right or wrong involved in this act. just listen. it is gold. 

i am the most pathetic beginner at this. so i love what you say about just "do it wrong." thank you. i'm just going to keep trying, clumsy and awkward as it feels.

i like this quote by Sri Aurobindo:

"By your stumbling, the world is perfected."









Excellant article. What I

Excellant article. What I would suggest though is go further. Let go of the notion of "what's really out there." We can never know what's really out there so let it go. Once you do, letting go of judgments and criticism is so much easier. Changing the focus to what's inside rather than what's out there is the key to changing everything.

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