“I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.” Publilius
When I was in my 20’s, I had a very tough time socializing. I was self-conscious and talked way too much. A very dear friend of mine taught me an invaluable lesson that has stood the test of time for all the decades since.
My friend was (and still is) a glamorous, delightful, charming, funny, head-turning woman. But the key to her success and comfort in social situations was her ability to listen to others.
How to Focus on Others
What she told me is that if I focus on others, asking them questions and following up, showing an interest in their lives, two things will happen:
- They will be left with a terrific impression of you.
- Your anxiety will dissipate because you are focusing on the other person, rather than on what they think of you.
The fact is, she told me, most people want to talk about themselves. They aren’t really interested in what you have to say. I must admit that this is often the case. It’s amusing to watch how little most people I casually or socially interact with care about what I have to say. They rarely ask a “follow up” question and simply turn the conversation back to themselves.
I have found focusing on others in social situations where I don’t know anyone (or when seeing relatives I barely remember) to be an entertaining practice that has enabled me to find interest in subjects that would put me to sleep in a lecture hall, allowing me to continue a conversation about topics I know nothing about far longer and with more enthusiasm than I could have imagined. Not only do I end up learning something new, but as my friend suggested, the other person feels great about our interaction.
In fact, this philosophy even helped my son, who, as most young men do, felt awkward with girls. Talking with him about this philosophy made a huge difference in his confidence. In fact, he just celebrated his one year anniversary with a fabulous girlfriend.
So how does this relate to our DA recovery?
There are four reasons why silence and listening are crucial to our recovery.
- Giving service is key to keeping what we have. Giving service is not only sharing our own recovery, but reaching out to help another sufferer. Learning to increase our skills in listening, without giving advice, is key to Step 12.
- Listening to others who have what we want in meetings, outreach calls, with sponsors, and in our PRGs, is one important way we learn how to work this program.
- One of the the DA Promises is that: “2. Clarity will replace vagueness; we will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us.”
- As Step 11 suggests, through the silence of meditation we hear our Higher Power speaking to us. Further, the Big Book states on page 87, “As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action.” And then we listen for an answer. This section continues by stating,
We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions. We become much more efficient. We do not tire so easily, for we are not burning up energy foolishly as we did when we were trying to arrange life to suit ourselves.
Are there any more powerful reasons to cultivate silence and the ability to listen well than these if we want recovery?
Listening is Not the Same as Hearing
Truly listening to another person is not just hearing what they have to say. An intimate dialog is comprised of validating and going deeper into what the speaker is saying, such as by asking follow-up questions.
I think it is a good practice to put into effect when we make our DA outreach calls. Often, we need to vent about our own issue, but when we are done, we might ask how the other person is doing, not as an obligatory gesture, but with genuine interest. Too often, people give lip service to this concept, boomeranging back to themselves without even a comment. It is often obvious that they are not really interested in what the other person has to say.
Active listening is about:
- Focusing your attention on the speaker, rather than being absorbed in what you want to say next.
- Not trying to one-up or compete.
- Not giving advice or proving that you know more.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we only listen to others. It is imperative that we speak our truth in order to recover. So please don’t confuse listening with co-dependent silence. However, I must admit that I am cautious with whom I share my issues. I only do so with those who also practice active listening. Otherwise, I am left feeling vulnerable and resentful.
Listening as a Spiritual Practice
Learning to be less self-absorbed is part of our spiritual growth. As it says on page 62 of the Big Book:
Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.
How is active listening a spiritual practice?
- Doing so will enable you to practice Step 12 more deeply and to communicate more intimately in all your relationships.
- This practice will help you get out of yourself and reduce ego.
- Finally, active listening can bring joy to your life through self-forgetting and focus on others.
Silence is a Spiritual Practice
Silence, in itself, as mentioned in Publilius’s quote at the start of this post, can be a profound spiritual practice in DA that keeps us from a number of our character defects. Many of us blabber on and on because we get nervous or because we have become habituated to spitting out our every thought or because we have not learned “restraint of tongue and pen.” (How funny, I first wrote “restraint of tongue and pain,” which may be even more accurate!)
By learning to cultivate silence, we:
- Refrain from gossip.
- Refrain from criticism.
- Have a chance to think before we speak.
- Learn how to keep from speaking out in anger until we are calm.
- Open our minds to learning something new, instead of just focusing on what we will say next.
In DA, we come in thinking we are experts at our lives and that we know best. When we take Step 1, admitting that our lives are unmanageable, and become willing to stay silent and listen, rather than hold on to our old ideas, we become ready for recovery. As it says on page 58 of the Big Book, “Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.” When you stand at the turning point, you can be sure that silence and active listening are two of the keys to letting go absolutely that will open the doors to recovery.