She sat before me in silence, fully present to what I was about to say. I told her what had been going on and how I was. Minutes after, she was still sitting there, soundless, with occasional nods.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” I asked curiously.
“I am still listening,” she said.
I paused for a second then continued talking. Her eyes were fixed on me and at times wandered elsewhere without any real focus. Yet I knew she was right there with me every single moment.
When I finally finished, she smiled, touched my arm briefly, and, with her look, asked a silent question of how I was. I smiled back at her. She knew I was okay. My heart was filled with a sense of relief. She said very little, but I felt completely heard.
Have you ever felt that way? That precious feeling of being fully heard as you are? Do you notice what happens to you after that? We repose. We settle more into who we really are. Then we bloom. That’s what real listening does to a person. Something that I suspect, unfortunately, is quite rare these days.
Let’s say, a colleague comes by. He has this tired look. We have seen that before. There is a brief thought of “Gosh, here we go again.” Our mind immediately shifts to an array of flashbacks. We remember past occurrences when he had that oh-so-familiar look. Before he begins talking, or before he even sits, we have equipped ourselves with this so-called knowledge and myriad of witty words to share slightly later. Not to mention reference to our own experiences that we believe relate to his situation. Where’s the listening in this?
Let’s bring it even closer to home, which is our own self. Do we listen to ourselves? Or we actually have preconceived ideas based on past experiences and labels that we have put on ourselves? When a feeling arise from within, do we listen and stay with the feeling? Or do we prematurely create stories around it and leave the feeling unattended – I had this feeling before, it was back in the days when such-and-such happened; when will this ever end, this is definitely because so-and-so? Is it possible to spend a moment or two to listen or experience that feeling? Who knows, that feeling may have something new to reveal to us about us.
Listening has been a particular interest of mine for quite some time. Exactly because I realize how rare it is for me to listen. I want to, but there are still too many noises in and around me. So how can we listen? I don’t particularly know how. What I know is that only in the quietude, we can truly hear. I am taking baby steps to what I hope to be better listening.
There are so many how-to’s offered to make us better listeners. Perhaps too many for my liking. Another noise. Many of those tips touch upon the technicalities of listening. Stand or sit this way, face that way, look the person in the eye, smile, nod and respond at appropriate moments, ask open-ended questions, so on and so forth. While these may be beneficial, is that what listening all about?
I personally subscribe to a different school of thought, a simpler one. In the words of Adyashanti, when he was asked how to do such-and-such, he responded, “Drop the ‘how’.” So how does one listen? Drop the “how” and, simply, listen. Can you feel the sensation of the word “listen”? Notice how our body responds upon hearing the word. Our body already knows what “listen” means. Stay with it.
We have many teachers around us. Young children are among the greatest ones. When something pokes their curiosity, they ask questions and, with their whole being, listen to the response. They won’t budge until they are satisfied. They stay with the question until they hear a full response. And they often have those glittering eyes full of awe when they hear it.
Nature is another great teacher. So is music. Krishnamurti once invited us to notice how we listen to the birds or to our favorite music. We listen without any struggle or agenda. We do not try to concentrate, deliberately shift our body, or nod at appropriate times. We do not even have the intention to understand. We listen. We enjoy the experience effortlessly and recognize the beauty that is expressed through that experience.
Let’s bring in another example. Reading is too a form of listening. As you read this article, word-by-word, notice how your mind wanders, be it to past experiences, yours or other people’s, or references to other articles. Notice how opinions, questions, or doubts arise upon reading these paragraphs, before you finish reading the whole article. Perhaps you even develop a perception on the writer of this article. How astonishingly creative our mind is.
Worry not. Only those with inner stillness can faithfully stay with the reading. The rest of us, mere mortals, would have our monkey mind gone overdrive most of, if not all, the time.
For me, just to notice this phenomenon is enough. To honestly acknowledge the noises inside our head, such as flashbacks, doubts, and opinions, and bodily responses, such as urges and emotions, when we are listening. We can then begin to differentiate which is noise and which is closer to truth. We are able to better hear what is being said. We become better listeners, a clearer mirror to those around us.
I sat down the other night in my mom’s room. She was reciting the Quran. The way she always does every single night, after the sun has set. I closed my eyes and listened to her voice with no other agenda but to listen. I don’t speak Arabic, so I did not understand the words. Yet somehow the voice was enough to express what needed to be expressed at that time. I feel love and loved. A beautiful experience.
That, to me, is listening.
About Eva Muchtar
Eva works as an independent writer cum editor and a craniosacral therapist. She loves anything that is simple, honest and somewhat random. She believes that we are at our best--and most useful--when we are being ourselves. Hence, self knowledge and self expression are her major interests.