What is love? Listening.

One aspect of loving people in our lives better comes from being able to listen.   I attended a workshop at Spirit Rock Meditation Center a few years ago and one of the teachers was an author name David Richo.  At the workshop, there were two full tables of books David Richo had written.  I was inspired by his gentle way, purchased several of his books, went home and read them.  http://bit.ly/1a2WH2X One idea David Richo created many books around is how to listen.

What David Richo teaches is what he calls THE FIVE A’S.  These five words have changed my life.  Here they are:



What he teaches is that you can use these words to listen better, to yourself and to others. Listening better is a way of loving better.  I memorized these words and scroll through them in my mind when I want to listen well to someone.  Usually the word I can’t recall is the one that I need to remember most for any given situation.  I noticed that each A word is followed by a double consonant.  When I’m listening to an upset teenager, I’m thinking, “I’m giving you attention, I’m showing you affection, I’m appreciating how you could feel that way, I’m allowing what you’re feeling, but there’s one other angle that I haven’t fully embraced.” I roll through the alphabet in my mind trying to figure out what double consonant I’ve forgotten.  “A, B, C.  C!  That’s it!” I tell myself. “I need to work on accepting that this is what this person I love wants or feels.  (versus trying to change it or fix it.)”

What I love about these five A words is that when I’m listening to someone else’s story, these five words help me listen more deeply.  I find I ask better questions and quiet my own desire to interrupt if I’m rolling through these words in my mind: attention, affection, appreciation, acceptance, allowing.  Sometimes I count them on my fingers to make sure that I stay present and listening (as opposed to argumentative, defensive or just plain absent.)

Taking notes when someone is telling you stories is also a wonderful way of showing that you’re really listening, (if taking notes is appropriate in a situation.)  It can show that you care deeply about what they’re saying. I find this especially helpful when interviewing grandparents or others from an older generation.  Oral history is important and preserved only if someone is there to listen and write down answers.  I often write the 5 A’s on top of a page to keep me focused.

I believe these words offer wonderful ways to improve our sense of compassion and intimacy with people we love the most.  I find them particularly helpful when someone just needs to be heard—often this is the case with those who are living with cancer, or under Hospice care.  A friend or family member who can hold space to listen is pure gold and often the stories that come from holding space and asking questions are too.

xo Kathleen

Gifts from those who are living with a serious illness Advice to a friend whose mom has cancer
Gifts from those who are living with a serious illness
Advice to a friend whose mom has cancer

The author

About Kathleen Buckstaff: Kathleen Buckstaff is an award-winning author, columnist, performance artist, cartoonist and photographer. She currently writes for The Huffington Post and wrote regularly for the Los Angeles Times and The Arizona Republic. Kathleen performed her one-woman play to sold-out theatres in CA, AZ and NYC and expanded the play into a book called The Tiffany Box, a memoir which was honored in 2013 as a USA BEST BOOK AWARDS finalist. Kathleen’s book Mother Advice To Take With You To College: Humor, Inspiration and Wisdom To Go was released in March of 2014. Kathleen’s abstract photographs of lilies were exhibited for the first time in April of 2014. Kathleen has a BA in Creative Writing from Stanford and a MA in Journalism from Stanford. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, their three children and their dog Lily.