Initially, I began this post by writing down a bunch of notes about all the different ways in which we listen every day. But, I tend to talk a lot… my boys tell me that I sometimes use too many words. And the post was getting really long and unwieldy. So, instead of going on and on telling you all about the myriad ways to listen, I’m going to do something else.
I’m going to use fewer words and allow the silence to come in.
Find the silence…
It takes intention and focus; it takes mindfulness and a deep breath. Realize that silence comes first – it is the ground upon and within which all else arises; and into which it recedes.
It is the ground plane. It is no-thing.
We are bombarded daily with an alarming amount of stimuli. Everyone wants our attention: the spouse, the kids, the co-workers or bosses, the advertisers – the list goes on and on. The racket can be overwhelming. There is so much sound and information, it becomes deafening, we can’t hear ourselves think. Ultimately, no matter what stimuli you’re hit with, what we respond to is always the mind. The mind tells us what’s going on and what to think or feel about it. This talkative companion editorializes your every waking moment (and maybe your slumbering ones too).
There is an old Buddhist story about a boastful student who comes to a teacher to learn. The student launches into a long monologue about all he knows, while the teacher begins pouring tea. The tea cup overflows and the teacher continues pouring; tea is flowing everywhere. The student stops talking and asks the teacher why he didn’t stop pouring. The teacher tells him:
Like this cup, your mind is already full with so many things, there is no room for me to teach you anything. Go back and empty your mind, then you will have space to learn something new.
Empty the heart and mind – tabula rasa – so that we may be truly present to the new info coming in. Open heart. Open mind. Let go of beliefs and biases and really listen to what is going on. Whether we are sitting with our friend or seeking deep within our selves, if the mind is already buzzing, it is impossible to hear that which is not being said, to allow a deeper truth to be revealed, or even find that still point at our center.
“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”
~ Margaret J. Wheatley
Yes, listening is simple, yet not always easy. I know I don’t always listen very well, I suffer from all the distractions myself ~ it’s something I’m working on.
How can we listen beyond the surface noise
to what is deep within?
A level of intention and mindfulness is necessary if we are to do it well. We must be still if we are to go deeper than the superficial noise, the most basic of small talk and petty grievances. We must stop our own spinning, our own doing, doing, doing so that we can
find the space to listen, not just to what is being said, but
to the Being who has something to say.
What is not said is sometimes more important, because often it is the deepest truth, our deepest dreams and fears; those things which live in our hearts, unrequited.
“The Truth comes in Whispers… after we have shut out all the other voices around us. Be still.”
~ Brave Girl’s Club
In Yoga class, our teacher had a favorite “experiment” he had us do. He would direct us into a basic, yet physically challenging pose, like Warrior II (standing runners lunge, with arms out to the side, wrists extended out over ankles). He would leave us there for several moments, until our quads and arms were screaming at us, then he would clap his baby cymbals *ding* and invite us to
find the silence behind the sound.
What?? (Several people would shoot daggers from their eyes at this.) This “exercise” has stuck with me for years precisely because it is exactly like life. Life throws us challenges and noise and distraction – constantly – and yet, we are invited again and again and agin, each time, to empty our minds, take a deep breath and find that silence within, the “eye of the hurricane” around which all else revolves. Hear and respond to the cacophony, do what you must, but always, always, listen to the silence within. Find that.
I’ve heard interviews with some famous musicians and this is what they’ve said about music: It’s not so much about making a bunch of sounds and melodies, but about playing with silence; moving around it and through it and framing it in a certain way. What we are listening to is just as much about the silence as it is about the notes.
Music is a great metaphor for life. As we listen, can we hear where it is going? Can we predict the next note, the direction of the melody? Can we just simply go along for the ride, focussing only on this chord right here? Do we hear the music building to the climax, then releasing into a quieter place? What happens when there is a “wrong” note ~ because discordance feels different than harmony, are we jarred out of our reverie?
And so, I leave you with this, our weekly
~ Invitation ~
Find the silence within, and listen to that.
And in the meantime, you may consider the following:
“You have to master not only the art of listening to your head,you must also master listening to your heart and listening to your gut.”
~ Carly Fiorina
Listen to and with the Body:
Aches, pains, vibes, flutters ~ what is the body trying to tell you?
How can we relate to the body as the shifting, dynamic, intelligent thing that it is?
Listen to and with the Heart:
Intuition lives here, what is it trying to tell you?
Can you approach all situations with an open heart ~ how does that help you to listen better?
Listen with the Mind.
On the one hand, this is the chatterbox in the mind, the judge and critic ~
How often to you believe what it’s telling you? Is the litany really in your best interest?
On the other hand, this is listening with a “critical ear.”
In the most basic sense, it is about focus and paying attention:
thinking, ideas, association, patterns, discernment, understanding.
I also invite you to notice: what do you do with what you listen to?
Listen, sort of, then React:
We hear the headline, then react from a place of habit, of long-held beliefs, biases, stereotypes and fears; we often do not even understand the whole story before we jump to a conclusion or opinion.
Listen, barely at all, then Resist:
How often do we “kill the messenger” before he even has a chance to open his mouth?
If we tune out, shut down or change the subject because we expect to be told something we don’t really want to hear, some difficult truth we’ve been doing our best to deny, we might just miss out on a opportunity for our own growth, a chance to dig a little deeper or heal something we’ve been afraid of or carried for far to long.
Listen in order to Heed:
We all need directions and advice sometime. Are you willing and able to keep
an open mind and heart and receive what you need?
Listen in order to Respond:
Most of our typical conversations are in this category.
Are we willing to allow the other person to have their full say
so that we can have all the information,
then we get an opportunity to give advise, try to fix, or help to solve a problem.
Listen in order to Hold Space for Another:
When we hold space for each other, we listen to the stories of joy and woe and we don’t pass judgements or try to fix anything. We just listen and let be. This is often the most challenging because we want to help, we want to take the pan away, we want our ideas (our two cents) to be heard.
This is probably the most ego-less type of listening.
“Listening moves us closer, it helps us become more whole, more healthy, more holy.
Not listening creates fragmentation, and fragmentation is the root of all suffering.”
~ Margaret J. Wheatley
In case you were wondering, yes, this is some of the list that I began with. I really would like to know what you’ve noticed in your own life about these different types of listening.
I think we all experience each one at different times.
I am a wife and a mom, a yogi, an artist, and a writer… but not always in that order! I tend to think in collage and have trouble starting my day without coffee (black). I am a contemplative and a seeker on this wonderful, odd trip that is this human life. I love to have adventures and detest fences of any kind. Dedicated to my journal, I blog part-time at www.vignettesfrommylife.blogspot.com