I recall being lectured to in high school on various subjects. I learned to listen for what was going to be on the test – and how to ignore the rest. One could call this passive listening. I prefer to use the word “hearing” as in “I heard the teacher say that was going to be on the test.”

Listening is quite different from hearing to me.

There’s the sort of listening where people say they are listening to their body, their gut, or their heart. This doesn’t usually involve actual sound but is more akin to feeling. And I find this bit of language fascinating – how listening and feeling are so closely correlated in my language.

When someone says “listen to me,” the implication is that I take in the expressions, body language, and the atmosphere in the room to be absorbed as a memory. In research about the mind and memory, it’s clear that the mind does not (only – or even primarily) store the contents of a conversation as a recording would. The mind stores the emotion of the conversation. For me, listening to my body tends to be a big part of actually listening to someone else. My body itself is involved in the listening, processing and turning the conversation into memories. The body experiences may be joy I feel in my chest or a reaction in my gut. The gut reaction may be to a truth I’d not wanted to hear or the sense that I’m not hearing the whole story. A reaction in my chest to someone else’s joy or the feedback of a job well done can be equally compelling. Those emotions can be more important than the actual conversation.

This whole body experience of listening creates a durable memory – and so much more is included than actual words. In addition to what is going on in the listener’s body, there’s the temperature. Is it quiet or loud around the speaker and listener? Are the people around you focused on what is being said? Is there excitement, anger or boredom among those around?  All this “extraneous” going on – The Space – in which the listening takes place is part of what makes memories.

The facts contained in lectures from high school typically soon faded. It was the experience of learning – the joy of figuring something out – or the frustration being wrong – that stay with me.

Listening is more than hearing sound. Listening is a whole body experience which may not even end at the body, but extends to “the space” around the listening. Something worth listening to should be worth understanding. I want to understand when I’m listening, and thus the realization that my whole body is involved has become important to me. — Thrane Jensen, UUFA Treasurer