Is Listening A Form of Touch?
From a scientific perspective, listening is an auditory (hearing) mechanism. Sound vibrations from our external world (for example speech, music and chanting) reach the eardrum, or tympanic membrane, which separates the inner from outer ear. Vibration of the tympanic membrane transmits through 3 adjacent tiny bones known as the malleus, incus and stapes. These vibrations are assimilated by Cranial Nerve VII (facial nerve) and pass through the vestibular apparatus and cochlea where branches of cranial nerve VIII (vestibulocochlear nerve) pick up the signal, carrying it to the medulla oblongata in the brain, where the meaning is interpreted. Further, varying inflections in the voice influence the emotional intention felt, and thus interpretation, of the sound vibrations.
Here is a picture of the anatomy to help visualize this process:
Let’s consider the following poem, which I was introduced to during my Trauma Informed Yoga Training (TIYT). The author is unknown:
Will you please just listen?
When I ask you to listen and you start giving advice, you have not done what I have asked.
When I ask you to listen and you start telling me why I shouldn't feel the way I do, you are invalidating my feelings.
When I ask you to listen and you start trying to solve my problem, I feel underestimated and disempowered.
When I ask you to listen and you start telling me what I need to do I feel offended, pressured and controlled.
When I ask you to listen, it does not mean I am helpless. I may be faltering, depressed or discouraged, but I am not helpless.
When I ask you to listen and you do things which I can and need to do for myself, you hurt my self-esteem.
But when you accept the way I feel, then I don't need to spend time and energy trying to defend myself or convince you, and I can focus on figuring out why I feel the way I feel and what to do about it.
And when I do that, I don't need advice, just support, trust and encouragement.
Please remember that what you think are "irrational feelings" always make sense if you take time to listen and understand me. (Source: http://core.eqi.org/listen.htm)
The poem reflects a very powerful message: when we don’t listen to another person we create disconnect in both communication and our ability to honor one another’s humanity through emotional touch. There are 2 main ways to listen: passively and actively. When we listen passively, we are not actively engaged in an effort to understand or relate. Sending a text message or email while on the phone with someone else or listening to the radio are both forms of passive listening. A human disconnect is created by this lack of engagement and support. On the contrary, when we actively listen, we are focused and following body language cues, perhaps even using questions to clarify meaning, which allow us to “touch” and connect with another’s humanity at an emotional level.
To answer the original question, listening IS a form of touch. Through listening we connect and relate at an emotional level. This is very powerful because it acknowledges our deep soul need to be seen, heard and understood.