Listen (Practice)

I’ve had a head cold over the past week which has really hampered my desire and ability to write poetry, as well as for my meditation practice. I’m just starting to come out of the haze and getting my footing back into some kind of normalcy. Without the practice, without the regimen of daily meditation all I have left is coffee. Anyway it occurred to me that I do still, in fact, have the practice. I do have ways to focus my mind, to keep it oriented even if my nose is clogged! This is through the practice of listening, listening deeply without adding anything (via thought) to the moment, just supporting and understanding, being there for the person I’m in conversation with and not letting things distract me from this purpose. It’s difficult and so often -before I’ve even recognized it- thoughts have run away from the situation, but if practiced with regularity, just like a daily meditation practice, this should take on a more important role in my practice, even more so than breathing perhaps. Deep and active listening comes from listening that is not narrative driven, that which has no agenda, or judgments, it comes from wisdom, from the ground. Deep listening is trying to understand the other person’s narrative; the other person’s wants and needs without adding anything to it. Could we also use this for ourselves? Yes!

 Thich Nhat Hanh: Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don’t interrupt. You don’t argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing.

I really struggled the other day when a friend was talking to me about his crappy weekend. It was one of those times when one bad thing gets compounded by many other bad things. And as he was telling me about it, I knew there to be times when I was distracted by cars driving by or the breeze in the trees, but thinking back on the conversation the thing that was most distracting was my thoughts driving me away from what he was saying, and the majority of these thoughts were based on the fact that I didn’t have the right thing to say, that I was somehow not a very good friend because I didn’t have any good advice or comforting words for him. So my narrative drove me away from the conversation and it became very self centered and stressful as I bashed myself over and over again. I was going in and out of these thoughts and came to rest on at least not adding to his frustration by turning it into a bitch fest. At the least don’t add to his depression by gossiping about the people causing his problems. But of course the more I focused on staying away from this course of action, the more I was drawn to it and I heard myself saying things that opened the wound even more.

This situation happened before I remembered that deep, active listening can and should be a part of my daily practice, but even at the time I felt embarrassed and knew that I only served to bring back up the difficult things he was dealing with.

Always following my own narrative. I’m always following my own narrative, even when I’m taking interest in someone else’s it still comes back around to filter through my own. Why? Why is this so? Is this the mechanism that contributes to an overarching feeling of alienation? This is why listening deeply has become such an important focus for my practice, because when I listen deeply to others I force myself out of this mechanism that revolves around the watcher (ego). I lose myself in their words, their world, their problems, which for a short instance all become mine as well as theirs; ours.

A Brief History of My Dog My dog is a rescue. Apparently he was being neglected and abused when he was found wondering the streets. He had been being left outside and found multiple times before taken in to be offered to a home that would love him. We found him and gave him that love. Though with a bit of a caveat. We had many instances of him going potty inside and at that time I had no control over my anger whatsoever and there were plenty of times when we came home and found he’d pooped in the house or gone through the trash and I’d take my anger and frustration out on him. Not something I’m proud of today and something that I have to face as every time I raise my voice I see him slink down and head to his kennel. He picks up on my moods very easily and it’s amazing to see, however something that also serves as a reminder for how I treated him in the past. Had I handled the situation with a little more understanding and compassion he may have worked through whatever it is that causes him to shit in my house! Now when I take time out, he goes and refuses to get near it, pulling away on his leash. He’s so afraid of his own shit. The whole of this history for being hurt and punished for it comes up each and every time he sees it.

And I think we are much the same with our own shit, our past beliefs about ourselves which we’ve made this whole narrative about comes up again and again each moment. It comes up in our narrative in our minds and we follow it without question. Perhaps my friend had already accepted and gotten over the bad weekend and all he really needed was someone to hear his story. Perhaps he just needed to know that someone else had had similar experiences and hearing someone share them would’ve helped him most, but while following my narrative, I could only think about how I didn’t have the right words for him and so was a bad friend and slunk back into my shell and didn’t provide any of that!

I think that if I can meet my own shit (and my kids, and wife!) with the understanding and compassion that comes from deep listening it can provide many opportunities for new growth. Seeing deep listening as a daily practice, much like meditation, really is the first step.

This fresh new growth
leaves not yet unfolded
has already been chewed through

8 responses to “Listen (Practice)”

    1. Thanks Ben, good stuff. How is it the simplest things can be the hardest things? Must be worth it to try!

  1. wishing you continued
    gentle success with others
    & relaxed, personal time 🙂

    1. Hey! Thank you so much, it’s always great to hear from you. I wish you the same as well!

  2. Being afraid of your own shit! What a perceptive metaphor! I should journal more

    1. Hey! Thanks! As it happens I’ve picked up this practice of deep listening and the book by TNH which I’d quoted. Thanks for bringing this essay back to my attention. Funny how cyclical things are.

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