Mark Nepo, poet, writer and philosopher, calls listening the doorway to everything that matters. The start of a new year is a wonderful time to consider how we can listen in more stillness and with more openness and receptivity this year to each person whose life touches ours. Nepo's book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred (Simon and Shuster, 2012), offers some beautiful questions for personal reflection and new ways to approach your interactions with others. As a cancer survivor and someone who is losing his hearing, Nepo is especially insightful about what really matters.

At this particular time in our country and our world, when people are divided into tribes of like-minded others, perhaps listening deeply from the heart before responding is more important than ever before. Finding stillness and silence within is a necessary ingredient for being fully present for yourself and for others.

Here is one of the lovely prompts for meditative reflection in Nepo's book:

Go outside if you can or sit near a window. Breathe slowly and watch the season you are in unfold around you. Close your eyes and look within. Breathe slowly and watch the season unfold before you. Inhale and listen for the still point under all seasons. Breathe deeply and listen for the filament of light that lives within you. Calm yourself and listen to the seasons you are in, the body you are in, and the light rising within you.

Seven Thousand Ways to Listen also offers some very thoughtful questions to ask over coffee or at the table when you gather with friends or loved ones for a meal. Here are a couple of the questions:

Give the history of a conflict you are currently a part of. (Think of a fishing net between you and the other person. The net can get torn or tangled.) How is the relationship tangled and torn? What are some steps you could take to unravel the tangle or repair what is torn? Invite honest feedback from your listeners. When the time feels right, approach the person you have the conflict with. Invite the other person's point of view about how the relationship is tangled, torn and off-center. Let your heart guide you to what comes next.

Share an instance when you heard the loudness of something falling apart.  Listen to everyone's answer before discussing. Next, share an instance when you heard the subtlety of something coming together. Stilling of our pain is a fierce blessing we resist, offer what this means to you.

Listening is a mysterious and challenging art form. We can always get better at it. Listening is transformative, for ourselves and for each other. I highly recommend Seven Thousand Ways to Listen as a wonderful study to learn more about self and becoming more emotionally and spiritually present within your relationships. When you think about the people who have listened to you the most deeply during your lifetime so far, you realize how many people speak and how few people really cultivate the art of listening well.