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Tips to Be a Generous Listener

Tips to Be a Generous Listener

My mentor Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, spends a lot of time talking about generous listening in the programs she teaches such as these and in the Healer’s Art curriculum she developed for medical schools, which I had the privilege of participating in as a practicing doctor.

What is Generous Listening?

In Dr. Andrew Weil’s Integrative Oncology textbook, Rachel describes generous listening this way. “Simply listening to the experience of others validates its importance and weaves it more deeply into their lives. Most of us do not recognize the power of our attention and few of us can listen generously. As we listen we become busy considering things that concern us: do we agree with what is being said or not? Do we believe it? We listen competitively: what does this say about the person who is speaking and what does it say about me? Is this person more educated than I am? Smarter? More fortunate? More competent? And of course if we are health professionals, we listen to diagnose and to fix. But this is not the sort of listening that spiritual experience requires. Sharing a spiritual experience is always an act of trust and when someone trusts us with a story we need to listen not in order to agree or even understand but simply to know what is true for this other person. In witnessing it, we give it value and we make it more real for them and perhaps for ourselves as well.”

Generous Listening Heals

When she teaches us about generous listening, Rachel asks us to simply be present with someone as they speak to us. Even with as much experience as I have listening to patients, and now to my one-on-one visionary clients and unconventional patients, it’s amazing how quickly I notice myself veering away from generous listening in everyday life.

Every single one of us has the opportunity to be a healer every single day simply by practicing this art of generous listening.  Here are the generous listening practices I use with my clients and try to use (not always so well) in the rest of my life.

Tips For Listening Generously

  • Be present. Live in the moment. If you notice yourself thinking about last night’s date or tomorrow’s business meeting, return to your breath. Feel your breath moving in and out. Be here now.
  • Make eye contact. Look at the person who is speaking directly in the eye. If this feels uncomfortable, try using a technique shamans use – look with your left eye into the left eye of the person speaking. Try to consciously look past the surface of who is speaking. See their soul. Witness their truth with magical eyes. When you stare into the eyes of someone while witnessing that what they say is true, you can change a life – or even save one. The healing power of this simple act goes beyond words. Try it today.
  • Don’t judge. Know that what this person says is true for them. Avoid the temptation to make what they’re saying about you. Their truth is their truth – period. It’s not your job to make it right or wrong.
  • Don’t interrupt. This is their time to talk. Check your ego at the door. This is not about you. Just listen. That’s all.
  • Open your heart to love. Visualize a pink light streaming out of your heart and into the other person. Feel unconditional love for this person. Make yourself a vessel for Divine love flowing through you. Make it your job to help the other person feel truly seen and heard. This is the best gift you can ever give someone.

When I married my husband Matt, I asked my BFF Katsy Johnson, who officiated our service, to read this quote from the movie Shall We Dance?:

We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”

You don’t have to be married to someone to be their witness.

Try it today.

You just might discover that not only do you heal someone else, in doing so, you heal yourself.

Please share your thoughts. I promise I’ll be listening generously to you.

With love and an open heart,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at and also created two online communities - and She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


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7:01AM PDT on Apr 30, 2013

Great stuff. Thanks for sharing!

6:11PM PDT on May 6, 2012


5:20PM PDT on Apr 12, 2012

Great article. Thanks a lot!

7:49AM PDT on Apr 11, 2012

Excellent. Thank you.

7:24AM PDT on Apr 10, 2012

Thank you for reminding us the importance of listening. It bears mentioning that when we choose to listen beyond surface exchanges to a deeper more profound level, we bear a responsibility to the person speaking; they entrust in us information or insight into their earthly journey, we must protect their spoken words and insure that their dignity be protected. I am reminded of the seven year old child who when asked, what is love, responded, when my name is safe in their mouth. Out of the mouth of a babe falls pearls of wisdom. So, when we generously lend our ear we must too give our hearts for looking into the another's soul must be centered in love and with compassion; what they share must be safe in our ears.

12:49AM PDT on Apr 10, 2012

Often people have been surprised and said to me : "You remembered that I said that?" Perhaps listening is a dying art because most people seem to be in a rush or self-absorbed.

I think one is blessed to have people who are able to listen to one - because often answers or solutions come to me when I'm talking to a friend.....

3:47PM PDT on Apr 9, 2012

Great insights into just how to listen....I've always had jobs in which I couldn't really listen to someone because of time constraints...(airplanes, etc). And now I find I'm still doing the same thing...listening with 'half an ear'...(as people say)...and how horribly rude is that? The tips in your article are going to help me to be a real person--really listening. So, thank you very much.
Usually I like animals more than people and forget that animals need good people too...and there are many lovely souls trying their best to take care of planet earth. Your insights will help me to remember that it is people who are destroying, and people who are also healing this earth and her wondrous creatures.

2:17PM PDT on Apr 9, 2012

Thank you for sharing .Best regards.

7:24AM PDT on Apr 9, 2012

Excellent advice. I often do something very much like this, but could stand to do it a little bit more.

5:11AM PDT on Apr 9, 2012

Thank you for posting.

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people are talking

Pretty clever idea.

LOL... thx

That was beyond adorable. Absolutely delightful and what pretty animals

Good, common sense tips!


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