You don’t need anyone to be heard.

The Exercise: Listening

Many moons ago, I partnered up with a fellow trainee as part of a coaching training exercise. One would talk for 5 minutes, and the other would just ‘listen’ without interruption. This exercise is widespread across the self-help world, including coaching, therapy, and counseling.

In the first round, I listened, and my partner talked. There was a moment when I was genuinely concerned at how much she was talking because I feared the battery in my cochlear implant would drain completely before she finished!

When the 5 minutes were up, we were asked to tell our partners what it was like being the speaker and the listener. Well, my partner, to my sheer incredulity, said that she felt heard, loved, and appreciated. After she said that, it was my turn to share my experience of listening. I knew the truth, but because I recognized she was in a lovely feeling, and I didn’t want to spoil and potentially rob her of her beautiful smile, I no longer had the courage to tell my partner that I didn’t understand a single word she said in those 5 minutes. I felt I had to lie. I said, “That was a strange experience, not one I had before. I had no idea I was capable of listening.” She remarked, “That’s wonderful,” while I put on the best artificial smile I could muster up.

The Exercise: Talking

We reversed roles, and I spoke for 5 minutes about a few random topics that no one could be interested in. Including how I was able to communicate with the family pet dog using hand signs after the dog became deaf due to old age! My partner listened to what I said. Again, we shared our experiences. She said, again to my incredulity, that she felt she was so connected to me and that she totally “got me.” The edges of her beautiful smile of hers somehow got closer to her ears!

For the same reasons, I didn’t have the courage to say, “I didn’t feel heard. I felt like she listened to something other than me and that I had no idea who I was talking to. Indeed, I had no idea why I was talking in the first place! Dear, I’m sorry, you definitely don’t get me at all.” I had no sense of connection with her, and the experience of being heard and seen was not there. I was left with the feeling that the entire exercise was nothing more than a time-consuming gimmick designed to make training appear better than it really is.

Trapped in GroupThink

After the exercise, everyone in the training returned to their seats and shared their experiences with the rest of the group. Everybody shared similar observations: they said they could listen more deeply than ever before, they were able to connect, and the power of listening with nothing on the mind was profound for them. Everybody nodded in agreement, and I was the only one who didn’t. Of course, the odd one out in a crowd kinda gets blurred in with the rest, so no one saw I was disagreeing. And since it was “everyone else,” I also had the feeling that I was not allowed to say something different from what others had said.

However, the trainer said, probably as a joke, that “a lamppost also has nothing on its mind, and that’s what listening is.” Everybody laughed.

Meeting the Lamppost.

I became curious about the lamppost. I thought: “Why don’t you go and actually talk to a lamppost?” At first, I laughed the idea off for its sheer silliness—that a lamppost could actually listen!

When I got home, I decided to try talking to a lamppost. I knew it was a crazy idea, but I knew that ‘crazy’ could be insightful. My only concern was finding a lamppost where I was unlikely to be seen “talking to a lamppost.” One can only imagine what others would think if they did!

I found a lamppost on a rarely-used country lane and made my way there. I got there and saw a tall metal pole trying to reach for the skies with its light. I was quite the sight, a perspective I hadn’t seen previously, though goodness knows how many times I’ve walked past one! I double-checked that there was no one around, so at least there would be some safety in what I was going to do.

Digging up the courage to get ready to speak to the lamppost while still thinking about the sheer stupidity of what I was about to do, I broke the silence as I uttered my first words.

I spoke…and spoke….and spoke. It was an experience…unlike any other.


I can’t really explain what happened as was in the experience of speaking to a lamppost, but some things I did realize afterward:

  1. As I spoke, I became wiser. What I shared with the lamppost was knowledge that got richer and richer.
  2. As I spoke, I felt an increasing sense of newness. New perspectives, ideas, opportunities, and realizations emerged. The Richness Meter was rising steadily.
  3. In the beginning, my thinking was loud, and my speech expressed what I was thinking. By the end, there was only talking; thinking apparently did the vanishing act!
  4. I completely lost all sense of time. Don’t tell anyone I spoke nonstop to a lamppost for nearly 30 minutes!
  5. The lamppost was steadily “disappearing from view.” It was still there, but I was “using” my eyes less, so things started to disappear, and something beautiful came into view.
  6. In the beginning, there was a sense that the speaker and the listener were separate entities, but then they became one—the speaker and listener were the same person!
  7. When the speaker and listener were one, I had the surreal experience of talking and listening in the same moment, every moment. I heard myself talking!

The last point brought about a stunning realization. I felt heard, yet no one heard me. I thought, “That can’t be possible.” But it happened.

That was the beginning of experiencing a very different order of listening. The listener wasn’t “out there.” It had been inside all along. Since then, my listening has evolved into something that I could never foresee. It’s even more surprising, considering I am profoundly deaf and have believed that my listening ability was inextricably linked to my hearing!

My listening continued to evolve, and it became clear that the lamppost wasn’t needed at all for me to hear the wisdom that lay within the soul. I can now access that “quiet place” at any time, at any place, no matter what I am going through. As I was listening in this unexpected way with others, including family and friends, it was as if I had met them for the first time ever. Curiously, I found them to be wiser than I ever thought they were. I found myself being able to love them without them needing to fulfill any perceived criteria for me to love them.

All in all, there was a deep gratitude for the new and richer experiences I had that weren’t connected to anybody. As Gilbert Chesterton once said:

“It is a difficult moment for an atheist to be feeling grateful and that there is nobody to thank.”

The Three Principles of Mind, Thought, and Consciousness illuminate that I live in an inside-outward world, where everything is created from the inside/within the Mind and projected outwardly, yet the outward projection remains inside. This is the only explanation among many I have encountered that is consistent with my experience of speaking with the lamppost and my experiences with my partner from the exercise. It also explained how my partner in the exercise felt “heard, loved, and appreciated” because she created it herself, and I had nothing to do with it!

We really do live in an inside-out reality.

Update: Since this post was published, a wonderful friend shared with me a very profound comment: “Many people believe that we need to be heard by another person in order to heal. This post challenges that assumption to the very heart.”

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