Meditate On Listening To Yourself
August 11, 2017
“Listening deeply is the practice of mindfulness. But if you are full of pain, full of anxiety, full of projections, and especially full of prejudices, full of ideas and notions, it may be very difficult for you to practice deep listening.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
Listening seems so rudimentary that we often don’t see it as a skill to be cultivated. Listening, for most of us, just happens. But there are very few times in our day where we are listening deeply to ourselves or another person. Instead we’re either in the past—concerned about something that has happened—or in the future—concerned about something that might happen.
The idea of listening to oneself is a bit odd for most people. We see ourselves as one entity and one identity therefore how could dialogue exist? But if you’ve ever thought about doing something and decided not to do it, then you’ve experienced this internal dialogue. One voice is says, “Of course you should eat that cheeseburger. You deserve it, Josh.” Whilst another voice is says, “You don’t need that cheeseburger, Josh.” Neither one of these voice are right, but we can acknowledge that they exist.
By listening to ourselves, we inherently learn about ourselves. We notice what this internal dialogue is; its sentiment, its tone, its structure etc. And as we listen to this narrative we practice not reacting to it, but rather continue to just listen attentively and fully. As we listen more and more we start to become compassionate with this voice and are then empowered to detach ourselves from it. The important insight here is that as soon as you are able to listen to something you notice that that something must be external from You. You realise e are not our thoughts. We are the listening and observing of our thoughts.
“I love this idea of deep listening, because often when someone comes to you and wants to vent, it’s so tempting to start giving advice. But if you allow the person just to let the feelings out, and then at another time come back with advice or comments, that person would experience a deeper healing.” — Oprah
Once we have learned to listen to ourselves deeply then we are truly able to give the gift of deep listening. In a world focused on analysing and solving problems outside from ourselves, it is difficult to not want to “solve” our own problems or the problems of others. When a friend or a lover or a family member comes to us with a problem, we often aren’t truly and deeply listening to them. We are, instead, figuring out how to solve their problem. And at times we often get frustrated at them when we can’t solve them. As if they are the ones to blame for our lack of ability to solve a problem that we are not facing.
However, the reality is that the person listening is rarely employed to develop solutions. I have never heard anyone ask me, “Hey, I’ve got this relationship problem and I want to talk to you about it and I want you to fix it for me by the end of the conversation.” Quite often that person is calling out for someone to just listen to them. To vent. To lean on. Not to solve or correct or mend. We are removing the person’s agency, if we solve their problems. Imagine if we always solved their problems. They would rely on us like an infant relies on its mother or father. Instead we should spend our time listening for no other reason than to just listen.
Today’s modern world isn’t short of distractions from deeply listening. If our phones aren’t distracting us, it’s a billboard or a group of people dressed like the Muppets. And with all these distractions, the art of listening to ourselves and the people around us is becoming more and more difficult to acquire. But it isn’t impossible. It just takes focus, practice and patience. Start by having a conscious conversation with someone close to you. Put your phone in your bag or put it on the table and flip it over. Face the person and make eye contact as much as possible. Now listen to them and resist the urge to interject. If you notice this urge, take one breath in, let it go and focus your attention back onto the person and what they’re talking about. You will find this incredibly rewarding and also insightful.