On Monday, I gave an overview of 5 contemplative practices that I strongly advocate. However, I left one very important practice out because I felt it needed it’s own spotlight. That practice (you may have guessed) is called deep listening.
Let’s start with the opposite of deep listening, which I call hasty listening. How often do you find yourself listening to someone else, or even your own thoughts and feelings, only to get to a point of action? You see humans have a voracious appetite for doing. We always need to be doing something. Otherwise, many of us hold the skewed belief that we are passive, not useful, and perhaps even invisible. I’ve seen and been in too many conversations wherein both parties are engaged in hasty listening, meaning the one is only listening to the other so that they can have their turn to be heard. Hasty listening is volatile and reactive. Often we latch onto one word, idea, or tone of voice that doesn’t sit well with us and immediately we must chime in. We must be heard. When we engage in hasty listening, the problem is not that we are not hearing the other person, it’s that we are not hearing ourselves.
Just as I said in my post on forgiveness being about you and not the other, so it is with listening. When we realize that listening has more to do with the listener than the listened-to, then we are engaged in deep listening. If you’re a regular reader, you may have already guessed that deep listening requires complete presence. This contemplative practice can only occur when the mind is still. We let go of our preconceived notions, our judgments, and assumptions. We listen with an alert and malleable mind, and we pay very close attention to our inner-workings—thoughts and emotions that arise while listening. In this way listening becomes an active process as opposed to a passive waiting game in which we are filled with anxiety and impatience.
To clarify I will use myself as an example. I tend to fixate on things especially when I’m engaged in a heated argument. I’ll be the first to admit that I want to be the one who is talking and being heard, the one who is right. Over the past year as I’ve grown in my meditative and contemplative practices, I’ve been very attuned to this flaw. I remember the moment when I first truly experienced deep listening. I was having a heated argument with my wife, expounding upon my point of view very convincingly (so I thought) and she stopped me and said, “you’re not listening.” My gut reaction was one of defensiveness. I thought to myself, ‘of course, I’m listening.’ And then I had a moment of stillness. I noticed my breath. I noticed how angry and defensive I had become. And I said, “you’re right, I’m not.” So I shut my mouth and I heard her as if for the first time. I listened to her point of view, and realized that she was experiencing anger and defensiveness among other things. And all the while I stayed tuned into myself; the reactive emotions and thoughts I was experiencing. After that we were able to articulate ourselves calmly, truly listen to one another, and the matter was quickly resolved.
Had I not taken that moment and tuned in, that argument could have lasted days. It could have dissipated and turned into a long-held grudge. Only when we listen to ourselves are we capable of truly listening to another person.
The best part about deep listening is that you can practice! Add it to your daily meditation or make it the subject of meditation. Here’s a brief guide to the practice of deep listening:
- Assume your meditative posture
- Close your eyes.
- Begin with being mindful of your body. Are you tense anywhere? Perhaps in the brow or chest? Is it related to some negative emotion—pain or anxiety?
- Accept whatever is there. You don’t have to do anything. Just notice it’s there and say OK. And you’ve just deeply listened to yourself.
- Now, turn your focus to your ears. Let every sound enter. Do not try to label or grasp. Just hear them, notice the quality of sound. Notice if these sounds make you feel a certain way or think a certain thought.
- If you become distracted, gently bring your awareness back to the sounds.
- Do this for anywhere from 5 minutes upward.
Wishing you clarity and peace.
By Terence Stone
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.