During a recent visit to New York, I ordered a salad at a deli in Union Square, and I became increasingly impatient as the minutes passed. I finally asked the guy at the counter if he remembered my salad. He slipped to the back, retrieved my order and as he handed it to me he said in a thick Bronx accent, “There you see, my guy gave you a salad, a pickle and he gave you his heart.” Everyone in the small narrow aisle waiting for their orders burst out laughing: construction workers, business women, and students alike. I loved the burst of humor in the moment. It made me think of how we can give our hearts to others through humor, as well as through kindness and something even more powerful—heart-centered listening.
Heart-centered listening is when you listen to someone not just with your ears, but with your entire heart. Heart-centered listening is when someone gives you (or you give someone) the gift of really paying attention to the details of what a person has to say, details that may not be important to the listener but are important to you, because you just need to be heard, you deserve to be heard, you are important, you matter, and the details in your life matter. It is about listening with compassion and sincere interest. It is conscious listening.
Years ago while living in New Jersey I stopped by a little pharmacy/deli in Sterling called Dorsi’s. I watched a thirty-something, female clerk greet each customer as if he or she was the only person who mattered. Customers would come in for a pack of cigarettes, coffee, or to fill a prescription. I watched her ring up each patron with the highest level of love; she listened to them and made them feel important. In her minimum-wage job she was doing the work of a highly educated therapist. I wanted what she was giving to her regular customers, so I grabbed items I didn’t need, and at checkout she treated me with the same kindness, but she didn’t strike up a conversation as she did with her regulars. There was something different about the way she was with her elderly customers; she was placed there for them, I am convinced, to listen to them complain about their ailments, speak adoringly about their grandchildren, and share whatever else was on their minds.
I believe heart-centered listeners are strategically placed where they are needed by the general population. They are like covert operators disguised in many forms. I have witnessed them as hairdressers, nail technicians, postal workers, grocery store clerks, and others, in places where routine visits are made.
Thinking about those who have impacted me in the past, I thank Mathew my hairdresser from fourteen years ago in south Florida, and Jesse from New Jersey, and now Janelle and Kristin here in Colorado, and my physical therapist Kim whose gentle words and compassion helped me through a really tough time. Your heart-centered listening mattered and continues to matter.
Heart-centered listeners give people the space to speak freely and uninhibitedly. They actually create a space like a sacred circle where anything said is gently held between the speaker and the listener. They feel and hear what you are saying as if you were the only person who existed in that moment. They are sincerely interested in the littlest of details because that is what is important to you.
Our personal relationships with a spouse or a partner offer us the great benefits of sharing and being there for one another. But there is something about people outside our personal lives who can boost us and make us feel loved outside our personal lives because they are not as attached to any outcome and they are not as emotionally invested as a spouse or partner might be.
At this time in my life I am blessed to have a trainer named Wesley who gives me heart-centered listening weekly. Wesley is a person with a heart as big as his stature. He was a State-wrestling champion in high school and throughout college, but his opportunity to go pro was cut short by a back injury. His muscular physique and masculine manner do not hide the fact that he is kind and sincerely cares for all of his clients.
Between reps, and sweat, Wesley listens with great interest to details of whatever is going on in my life. He often reflects back what I have said, and encourages me to say more, but he listens, he really listens, and not just to me but to all of his clients. When I leave I feel listened to and heard. As emotional beings, we need this. When we are listened to in this capacity we are able to process, to gain clarity if needed, and to feel validated.
We can all be heart-centered listeners for others. Not only for our friends, but for people we meet while we’re out. There are many who simply need to be listened to with your heart.
Valentine’s Day is my favorite holiday of the year. It makes me think of homemade cutout hearts with glitter, heart -shaped candies and the shiny red foil boxes of chocolates my father gave us each year. This Valentines Day I wanted to write about love, real love and ways to reach people — and heart-centered listening is one of the greatest ways we can express love.
Do you have a heart-centered listener in your life whom you are grateful for? Have you been a heart-centered listener to others?
May you feel heard and listened to and may you know that the details in your life matter.