Let music teach you how to be an active listener, and watch your relationships improve and connections grow.
Listening is truly an art form and it’s a craft we need people to learn in mass. I believe that one of the most helpful things you can do for someone is to listen to them. To quiet the impulse to respond, and expand your grasp on what someone is experiencing. People go their whole lives feeling unseen and unheard. This can lead to misperceptions, insecurity, and frustration for someone who needs validation and understanding. And we all need validation and understanding. Each one of us has a story to tell, a cross to bear, a dream to realize. We might not need tens or hundreds of people to hear our story, we might just need one person to truly listen to what we have to say. To be really heard and understood could change a person’s whole life, and if we created a culture of conscious listeners, then we could move towards really great things.
So why do we need validation? Because ultimately we need to know that we exist. We need mirrors to show us that what we are experiencing….is in fact being experienced. Philosophers have debated the nature of reality for hundreds of years and now quantum physics tells us that reality is dependent on how it is being observed. At a deep level, what we experience doesn’t fully exist without it being observed. We all have within us a witness capacity, a part of our mind that observes the experience. But this can become distorted and not fully whole, if we are completely alone for too long. We need others around us to mirror what we are, so that we can see ourselves. When we truly see ourselves, we can take responsibility and start creating what we want reality to be.
Now, the people around us have their own perception and listening capabilities. Some people are artists and they can clearly imitate and mirror back life. These people listen with a broad awareness. They don’t judge your experience or make it into what they need it to be. They don’t defend it or deny it from existing. They simply observe it…..take it in as clearly as they can. In a way, this type of skilled listening creates a pallet or backdrop for the other person to see the story they are projecting on the screen.
A non-skilled listener can appear scattered, have their mind on other things besides the talker. They can be trying to listen, but then interject because what the person is saying has triggered some reason for them to stop them from being the observer and turn it onto themselves, becoming the subject. This might be with the best intent, but unskilled listeners create a broken pallet. The projected image of reality gets distorted and deep down we can feel the frustration and struggle this creates.
Some people listen well, but then take your story and change bits and pieces of it, shaping it into something different than what really happened in order to control your experience. This is common in unhealthy and sometimes abusive relationships and leaves people wounded.
Wounded people need validation to heal. This is something that I have learned in my years as a therapist. People who have experienced really hard life changes or traumatic events can’t ‘move on’ unless they are truly validated. And sometimes it takes years of listening for someone to feel really heard. Have you ever recorded your voice and then listened to it back? It might sound so different than what you thought it was, that you can’t even believe that it is your voice. Or maybe you thought it sounded better in your mind and when you heard it played back you immediately stopped the tape because you didn’t like what you heard. There are many reasons why people are afraid to be truly heard. Just as the listener can gain skill, so can the person wanting to be heard. It takes true courage and vulnerability to share your story and to see reality for what it is.
As a music therapist, I help people hear themselves. I listen to what they say and reflect it back to them in a song. It can be a palatable and safe form of validation. I also use music to help people learn to be skilled listeners. In all of my music therapy groups, we practice whole body listening. We drum for a few minutes to organize our body and mind to be listening ready. Then we ‘check in’ and each person has a chance to share their experience and be heard. This gives students 10-15 times a session to practice keeping their attention on one person and what they are saying. This is building muscle memory, and with repetition, whole body listening becomes easier and better. I believe this is why the people in the groups open up so much, because they are finally being heard and they are finally hearing others. They are experiencing and understanding reality in a whole new way.
Listening to music can build skills that help you listen to people. Music listening is a great way to teach the two types of mediation: ‘focused awareness’ and ‘open awareness’. This can help expand our capacity for whole body listening.
Playing music with others is a good lesson on how being able to hear each other and communicate with each other affects the sound as a whole. Practicing call and response activities, tuning instruments, and harmonizing gives us the opportunity to learn how to listen. Many times what we hear isn’t what was really said. Through music, we can learn how to sharpen our ears and our minds.
Songwriting is also a great way to be heard. The more we can get people safe enough and inspired enough to express their story through music, the more people will really take in and validate their experience. Art imitates life, and the art of listening can show us what this life really is.