Recently during a yoga class, the instructor encouraged us to keep our eyes closed for longer than is the norm. I followed her instruction and found myself not only losing my balance when standing on one leg but also losing a good bit of distraction. When my eyes are open it’s like the world is speaking at me constantly:

What kind of bird is that?
I need to vacuum my car.
That dog is cute. Are we out of dog food?
Why don’t my abs look like that?

And on and on until my mind is racing with new To Dos and I am many other places than on my mat or in the moment.

I decided to start adding a few more seconds of closed eyes to every class and, after a few weeks, noticed that as soon as I closed my eyes my mind went into a state of calm much more quickly than before. My focus turned to the sound of my breathing and my heartbeat; I felt drawn to the sounds in the room instead of to the thoughts that usually pour into my brain. Judgement of my 54-year-old body and of my surroundings simply melted away. I began to want to stay in the darkness that seemed to re-focus me. I heard the instructor’s words more clearly and though still wobbly on one leg, felt a deeper sense of awareness of how my feet were planted.

This heightened sense of things made me wonder if I could use sense deprivation (closed eyes) to be a better, more active listener. I’m one of those who walks and shops and eats and reads email all while on a phone call or steering with my knee. I’m lucky I haven’t walked into a wall…ok, I did that once but that’s another story. You get it: multitasking = not focused = #NotReallyPresent.

So, I spent a week practicing closing my eyes and listening anytime I was on the phone (at my desk, not in my car). The hard part was wanting to take notes, but the more I listened without visual distractions or the ability to see someone’s body language, the more I observed about WHAT they were saying. I also grew more and more comfortable letting some silence linger. I don’t know why, but with my eyes closed, I felt compelled to ask more questions instead of blurting out my thought right as they finished their sentence. My new habit – closing my eyes to enhance listening – I hope will help others (on the other end of the phone) finish a conversation with a heightened sense of that they matter. Another benefit has been a reduction in my distraction when I’m sitting across a desk from someone. I love how one of my hobbies (yoga) has intersected with one of my passions (my job) and helped me communicate my true feelings: that the people with whom I am in a conversation are what is most important in that moment.

– Becky Sharpe, President & CEO