What Is Listening?

by | Nov 5, 2020

What is listening


Usually when I’m walking to the park, a.k.a the gym, I’m accompanied by voices playing on my headphones. One day last month, I had the company of the renowned meditation teacher and psychologist Tara Brach. On this particular podcast episode she was talking about the sacred art of listening. The first exercise she asked listeners to do involved playing her favorite Tibetan bell and prompting  “to follow the sound with interest, watch where it goes. You might discover deeply what you really are.” I’ve always wanted to know that so I carried out the exercise. Within seconds of when the sound of the bell stopped, I had an epiphany! I was none the wiser who I was, but for the first time in my life I knew what listening was.

Like most people I’m aware of the power of being a good listener therefore I strive to be one. To this end I’m always on the lookout for tools and tips to help get me there hence why I picked out the podcast. Prior to listening to that podcast, I thought listening was simply paying attention, remembering what was said, and responding appropriately and thoughtfully. 

The Tibetan bell played for about 30 seconds, followed by a few seconds of silence when Tara Brach asked that you have your eyes closed and just listen for sounds around you. I couldn’t close my eyes as I was walking on a main road, but I paused for a moment.  And that was when it hit me, that while I was listening to the sound of the bell I completely let go of the self that would have normally been preoccupied with trying to remember and assess what I was hearing or trying to find the right words to respond. Or I would have been distracted by other thoughts or tasks that I was multitasking with.  I just listened to the sound! And by doing that it opened up what Brach described as: “a template for awareness itself, the qualities of receptive space… Active engagement, that there is connecting, understanding and appreciating what is actually arising.” I wondered if there was some kind of mysticism to the bell she played, but she later explained that listening to sounds can teach “the deepest dharma, our understanding of listening to others.” This made me think of how different types of music can change my mood. For example, I have tracks made from what seems like rainfall sounds that I have been listening to for years to help clear my mind to work and meditate. So her explanation made sense to me.

 With her hypnotizing voice, Brach continued  to explain that when we take the path to deepen our capacity to listen “we spend more moments when we are resting in our true nature, in full awareness not centralized around the self, it creates an atmosphere of love, offering our presence. It is the deepest expression of love” and “we lean in softly with a willingness to be changed by what we hear”. Boy! We could certainly do with more of this in the world right now.  I wanted more than ever to be a good listener, but how do I get there? She said practice, just like you would practice meditation. The path starts with setting your intention, followed by other steps I won’t go into here but I include the link to the podcast so you can hear yourself. I’ve started the practice. It’s too early to report back but I’m noticing all the other things I’m doing when I’m listening. According to Brach this is OK, it is a step on the path. 

Here are some of the other voices that most stood out from my walks to the park this past month.

What is listening
Healing Racialized Trauma: A conversation with Resmaa Menakem and Tara Brach

A friend sent me this podcast and wanted to get my opinion. I was reluctant to listen to it as I thought it would be the same old explanation of racism in the US.  Resmaa is a trauma specialist and a somatic abolitionist (first time I’ve heard of this) whose mission is to help heal the world of what he refers to as white body supremacy. He uses the term body because he believes in the age-old wisdom of human bodies respecting, honoring, and resonating with other human bodies. The body is where the healing must start. I’m glad I let go of my prejudice and listened. Resmaa explained racism in the US (also relevant to Europe and other parts of the world) the way I had always thought it should be–through examining the impact of intergenerational trauma.  He offered too,  a new perspective I hadn’t  heard before, the trauma white bodied people in the US carry with them. This podcast encouraged me to check out what other pearls of wisdom the host Tara Brach had to offer, which was how I discovered the Sacred Art of Listening one. 

Is Western Society weird?

Joe Henrich, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University certainly thinks so. Henrich’s research shows that people with a Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic background which he terms as WEIRD, are not representative of humans in general.

Kanye West on the Joe Rogan Experience

I’m always suspicious of when people are labeled crazy, especially by the media, so I was curious to hear Kanye speak and make up my own mind. Besides, I figured I’m more likely to get a better glimpse into who he is in this long form conversation than in the usual soundbites. I picked a day when I had plenty of errands to do and listened to the entire three hour conversation. The manner in which he spoke on a range of topics from the music industry to education to Nikola Tesla and Edison to the current state of Puerto Rico showed that he is pretty switched on and thoughtful. When asked why people think he is crazy, he responded: “I just tell the truth. Telling the truth in a world that is full of lies is crazy.” Can’t help but think that considering his accomplishments, if his name wasn’t Kanye West but Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg he would be hailed a genius. 


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