Are you Listening?

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.


Sketch from personal journal by ces
Sketch from personal journal by ces


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.

Labyrinth header 2
Click here to read Christy’s introduction to the series.


Christy Sensharma

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

7 thoughts on “Are you Listening?

  1. Heather Fisher says:

    This is my lengthy reply to the following question….
    “I also invite you to notice: what do you do with what you listen to?”
    *Listen, sort of, then React:
    What I’ve noticed in my own life….
    I often find that I steer myself away from this kind of ‘listening’; as I know it is mostly intended to “grab” the attention of the “audience” ; albeit people listening to the news at home (either on tv or radio), or hear someone else announcing a headline that they read in a paper of some kind. I don’t like sensationalistic types of listening scenarios. I know that I am not getting even close to the whole picture, and whatever information is being “thrown” at me is meant only to get my attention. I like to have the whole story, not just bits and pieces. My reaction, if I hear something that I wasn’t intending on listening to, and cannot reach the source of the “noise” to turn it off (literally); I am highly agitated and bothered by it. It annoys me that so many are attracted to such sensationalistic nonsense; that it is broadcast regularly, and oftentimes about negative occurrences. This is part of the reason I do not listen to or watch the news very often. I’d rather find out in a more casual way; and then if I am interested in the topic, and of its importance to me; then I research it. I find out as much as possible about the subject matter; to get more complete ‘story’; not someone else’s broadcast version.

    *Listen, barely at all, then Resist:
    What I’ve noticed in my own life….

    Often in my life, I have found that if I sense a criticism coming on, that it triggers something in me that makes me want to just stop that person from talking. As it has occurred in my own personal life that NEGATIVE reinforcement was always my family’s way of trying to “HELP” me see how to “change” my ways to fit their ways; that “obviously” worked better than mine, because in their eyes; I was/am always wrong, and they are always right. Because I haven’t had, what I call a “cookie cutter” life or lifestyle; constantly struggling in some way, either financially or emotionally; they consider me ‘unable’ to make solid and sound decisions (because I don’t think like they do, and haven’t had the same lifestyle they have had). So, the assumption goes that anything I have to say is seen with a grain of salt. I find that I really almost literally, do want to ‘shoot the messenger’ because of the plethora of criticism I get from my family ( and have gotten my whole life), has made me HIGHLY sensitive to hearing anyone ‘correct’ my behavior in some way. Too many negatives have been ‘thrown’ at me, that I don’t want hear anymore. If it is in the context of counseling, etc… those kinds of environments, then I can calm myself better, as I know that the counselor/therapist has my best interests at heart; unlike most people that have been close to me in my life.

    * Listen in order to Heed:
    What I’ve found in my own life…
    If I am looking for a solution to a problem; yes, I am an open listener, even if the ideas that are being spoken aren’t sounding like a solution that would work for me; I am a much better listener, as I want to SOLVE problems, figure things out. Even if whatever the person I was listening to said is NOT something that I would use to solve the problem; then I have the attitude that ‘this person has got me thinking in a different direction’. Then in these kinds of incidences, I can listen well. My heart and mind are 99% of the time open to new ideas if I am having trouble finding solutions or new ways to do something. It is from my family dynamics, that I have no desire to ‘stuff’ the problem down and pretend it is going to go away. I have always been a solution oriented person.

    * Listen in order to Respond:

    I have found in my own life…
    I am a VERY good listener, and am very intuitive, and empathic by nature. So, I can tell if a person genuinely needs a good listener and has a heavy heart. As is/was my own experiences in life; most of the time, people I HAD to associate with (one group being my family); they did not ever want to listen to me (if I needed to talk or get emotions out, and getting highly irritated if I did attempt to try or could not hold in tears). Having this pain inside of me, that still exists; knowing I don’t really have anyone in my life (nor have I ever really), that was willing to listen to me; I am ‘bent’ on helping and listening to others when they need a ‘shoulder’.

    * Listen in order to Hold Space for Another:

    I have found in my own life…
    Once again, I find myself able to, fairly easily to listen and not talk or judge. For the same reasons I listed in the “Listen in order to Respond,” section of this question. I have been judged my whole life (still am), by mainly my family, who inherently cannot stop being this way, and I have tried my hardest to be patient with them and try to make them understand HOW I need them to listen. I need them to listen ONLY; not judge, not solve, not talk at all; that I just need to get things off of my chest sometimes. Sometimes ( a lot of times), I am NOT looking for a solution; but for validation that I am WORTH just listening to, in order to help my emotional state. Thus, I listen in this capacity quite well.

    This concludes my answer(s) to the question: I also invite you to notice: what do you do with what you listen to?

    Thank YOU, for LISTENING to my replies.

    • Hi Heather ~

      Wow. thanks for taking the time to write such a lengthy reply! I *listened* to all of it, and have been holding space for you since I first saw it. I felt such sadness for you that you have had such heartache in your life around not being listened to, not being really heard. I too have experienced this in some ways ~ I think it is most difficult when those who are “supposed” to be closest to you, like family, just don’t get you. I found that it became necessary to stop trying to make them understand or depending on them to support me – for my own psychological heath and well-being – eventually, I found a few like minded souls who could support me in some way. In fact, through all the challenges and difficulties I have experienced in the last few years, my journal actually became my life-raft, as is were, the place where I could vent most freely and be heard and not carry around the hurt and confusion and anger anymore. Do you journal? I HIGHLY recommend it.
      I hear that you feel like you listen more than you are listened to ~ that must be challenging for you, to feel like you give more than you receive… and yet, the fact that people are willing and able to open up to you is a gift to you – as they value your ears. Let go your frustration, you are loved and held more than maybe you know.
      <3 ~ Christy

  2. This was so well written Listening goes beyond just Listening . When we Truly Listen we connect with our Soul . It takes a lot of Practice to really Listen and especially not Judge .. Thank you for this wonderful post I really enjoyed it .

    Blessings & Love Brenda

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *