The Superpower of Deep Listening
“It is raining and you can hear the pattern of the drops. You can hear it with your ears, or you can hear it out of that deep silence. If you hear it with complete silence of the mind, then the beauty of it is such that cannot be put into words or onto canvas, because that beauty is something beyond self-expression.” — J. Krishnamurti
Listening forms the starting point for things like understanding and empathy, and as such can be considered foundational for good communication and healthy relationships between people. However, many of us have nothing wrong with our hearing but nevertheless struggle with listening. To my understanding, this causes considerable tension and suffering in our lives. In fact, I believe that better listening skills alone would significantly help create a more understanding, compassionate, harmonious world – a place that would better support our wellbeing.
So listening is not the same as hearing, and hearing is not the same as listening. “Hearing” happens by default when the eardrum perceives any sound. “Listening”, on the other hand, involves attention and choice. It is about voluntarily giving attention to what is heard, acoustically as well as psychologically.
In the different levels of listening, the highest level is often considered “empathetic” or “active” listening. That level of listening involves showing interest, asking questions and actively seeking to understand the other person. This level already can do a lot for us, yet beyond it is still something more: the level of deep listening.
Deep listening is a powerful and selfless form of attention that involves being holistically present in the situation – listening not only with your ears but with your entire being. It is a process of listening to learn that requires suspending of judgment and other self-oriented, reactive thinking, and a willingness to open one’s awareness to the unknown and receive new information, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Deep listening applies not only to communication with another, but also to listening to ourselves and to life in general. In fact, to really listen to others with accuracy and compassion, we must first learn to listen to ourselves.
The goal of deep listening is to hear beyond the words of the other person and yourself, to the essence of what the words and feelings are pointing to. Unfortunately, our western culture tends to strongly value the head over the heart and, as a result, we tend to listen and respond from the neck up, often leaving the rest of our bodies with little or nothing to say. I believe this living in our (busy) heads is potentially one of the biggest issues preventing effective listening. However, with effort and awareness, we can start living in a more balanced way, shifting the energy more into our hearts, and listening and responding from this much deeper, more resonant place. In deep listening, our mind and heart are joined in union.
Deep listening occurs when your mind is quiet. Have you noticed that “listen” is composed of the same letters as “silent”? This is to say that to be able to listen deeply, you must first learn to silence the inner noise in your head and remain open, attentive, calm and receptive in your being. This kind of presence is a skill that can be cultivated through instruction and practice. Meditative sound work (especially with our own voice) is one excellent tool for that, helping us connect better with our whole being (body, mind, spirit / inner silence) and step beyond our busy minds to the experience of listening.
The work towards silencing the mind is not always just fast and easy though – it does require tenacious repetition and commitment. But the effort is worth it considering the reward: learning to listen deeply can potentially change your whole life. Indeed it is said that the way we listen is the way we live our lives and I believe there is much truth in that. If your mind is always busy, it is very hard to hear, let alone deeply listen to, your subtle inner voice. When this happens, you only hear the noisy babble of your conditioned mind (ego), easily taking it as the truth and basing your life on reacting from that place. It is only when we calm down, subside to the present moment and start listening to the deeper part of ourselves that we can actually start living in accordance with our own truth and feeling aligned with Life. It is then that we are able to take steps on the path our true self wants to journey on and as a result, experience lasting fulfillment and peace of mind. This is what makes deep listening a superpower, and it is accessible to all of us. Would you be interested in becoming a super(wo)man with deep listening?
(Originally published in May 2018)