Listening through Open Hearts and Still Minds

Amy Hickman shares her experience, as a non-Indigenous person, of learning how to deeply listen as she walks with and learns from Aboriginal Christian Leader Aunty Jean Phillips.

Aunty Jean Phillips, one of the most Senior Aboriginal Christian Leaders in Australia, has often said to me that Australians should listen and learn from the Aboriginal community.

On these occasions, I nodded gravely, but did not believe I was included in her assessment. After all, I had been on the journey with Aunty Jean for several years now. Surely, I must be a good listener! 

But she meant those words for me. 

My way of relating to people is often to hear their words, match them to my experience, and then reflect my experience back to them.  In this way the conversation moves back and forth, from one idea to the next one in a very linear way.  This kind of listening is tied to my own understanding and ability to “capture” meaning. I learned how to listen in this way from my own family, my schooling and culture. 

Aunty Jean and other Aboriginal peoples call us to listen not with Western ears, but to listen deeply.  

Listening deeply makes room in my mind and heart for another.   

These days I am learning or ‘unlearning’ how to listen.  When Aunty Jean shares with me stories of sadness or joy, I can be aware enough to be silent first, holding what is said, not needing to explain it or respond to it in any way; only then do I begin to centre her truth in my mind and heart. 

Often I forget to listen deeply, and instead talk about my own experience, so that in my own mind, I can show her that I understand. But this only demonstrates that I have not really listened to her deeply—I have only heard with my ears, not listened with my heart.  With God’s grace, I am learning to hold the gift of Aunty Jean’s speaking in silence. Only then does trust between us grow, while deeper learning takes root in my mind and heart. 

Deep listening is a spiritual practice of decentering our own ways of knowing and doing, in order to build relationships of trust and right action with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sisters and brothers. 

Together let us listen with our hearts open, our minds still, waiting first, so we can learn how to act in good and useful ways. 


Going Deeper

Adam Gowen, a Wiradjuri man, and Aboriginal Christian Leader teaches you how to listen and calls you to take action by listening through this short reflection.

Brooke Prentis, a Waka Waka woman, and Aboriginal Christian Leader explains how she listens and what she hears


How have you learnt to listen? Who taught you?

When have you listened to Aboriginal peoples and only heard? Who was speaking and what did they say?

When have you listened to Aboriginal peoples and deeply listened? Who was speaking and what did they say?

What do you hear and what do you deeply listen through the words “Always Was, Always Will Be”?


Amy Hickman moved with her family to Australia from the USA in 2013. She lives with her husband Mark on Yuggera and Turrbal country, west of Meanjin (Brisbane).  She works as a Casual Academic at the University of Queensland’s School of Public Health. Amy’s life interests include walking with and learning from Indigenous leaders and communities so that the pain and rupture of colonization can be healed. Amy loves to spend time with her two grown daughters, enjoys writing and reading, and walking with her two cheeky whippets. 

NAIDOC Week 2020