The Lost Art of Listening
By Molly Murfee
Listening is apparently a difficult skill for us humans. So often we are barreling around, puff chested like over inflated military figures, barking our opinions at others as if they were eternal truths. Like soldiers preparing for war, we put up all our defenses, bustling about asserting who we are, believing our individual reality is the only one. Our ego, programmed to constantly fight for what we perceive to be our survival, falsely fears a variance of opinion threatens our ability to exist as ourselves.
We stop listening. We speak unkindly. Our sole focus becomes the perpetuation of our opinion, our justification of ourselves. We talk at people instead of with them. We cease to be involved in a fluid exchange, but rather mired in the concreted dictatorship of our own thoughts.
Afraid anyone might challenge our status, we square our shoulders for attack, building up our defense mechanisms, putting up walls. Inside these walls we concoct stories and conversations about what we perceive as the truth. Like a hamster running on its wheel in a cage, our mind works us up into an absolute frenzy. We cannot see outside these walls, so enmeshed are we in our internal storytelling. We are stuck in our own heads, playing our own personal movie over again and again, our own slice of reality like a shard of glass from a mirror, reflecting back only what we alone put into it.
Nothing can penetrate.
Listening, however, stops this constant bracing. When we listen our shoulders relax from our ears. We can feel the surface of our skin literally melt. Our internal organs settle into the earth. We’re receptive.
Listening creates space, openness. We’re able to hear other’s ideas, practice compassion, work to see something from some else’s point of view.
We learn that, just perhaps, our view is not the only one, other realities exist, and they don’t have to threaten our own. Our worldview and perception become larger than just the tiny sliver of our own. Our constantly churning, ruminating mind just stops. We step outside of ourselves, outside of our self-constructed walls that keep us in musty darkness and chaos.
We have room to breathe.
Instead of a stress-inducing power play, crawling all over each other in attempts of establishing hierarchy, we become equals. Just people, and a bundle of ephemeral rising and falling emotions, bumbling through doing the best we can. Not “me, me, me” – but us – simply trying to figure out this thing called human life.
In an article in Esolibris on the Fourth Mindfulness Training or Precept of Buddhism, that of Deep Listening and Loving Speech, Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hahn offers this declaration, “Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.”
We would do so much better on this earth, practicing deep listening and loving speech - from our personal partnerships and friendships, to our working and community relationships. It is opening up to a larger, more creative world where compassion and collaboration rule the day, and the solutions we find among ourselves are so much more expansive than what we could find on our own.
Each of us only holds a tiny shard of truth. But when we put them together, the picture is more whole, more complete. It is full of more color and diversity. It reflects back to us not only our vision, but that of everyone and everything around us – all together, all inclusive. We become so much more than just ourselves.
When we practice listening, possibilities open. By extension of the act, we better not only our own lives, but radiate this practice out into our community, and ultimately, the world.