Opening Your Ears and Mind for Deep Listening

Once a month on a Monday night we focus on the five Mindfulness Trainings and as a group recite each of them. This gentle reminder to come back to the core ethical and behavioral precepts of the practice is something I personally find very helpful. Just like when my mind wanders off chasing the next thought pattern so my own behavior can wander off, and so regularly reviewing the trainings is a helpful ‘nudge’ to get back on track. 

This month I thought we would focus on the fourth mindfulness training Loving Speech and Deep Listening. Specifically, I thought we might focus on the deep listening (also sometimes called compassionate listening) portion of this training as each month this is one where I know I need to recommit to the practice and work harder.

Reflecting on this I find that I have three specific difficulties when it comes to listening:

·       Things I am hearing trigger thoughts in my own mind and before I know it I am focused on these thoughts and have stopped listening to the person talking;

·       My natural tendency is one of problem solving and so my computer brain is running problem / solution routines so that I can provide answers even though I am not being asked a question; and

·       If someone talks in a long-winded manner and I have something I want to say, I will inevitably interrupt them mid-sentence and share my “amazing” insight or thought. 

The last of these is rude and I know it irks people, and I hate this habit too, but just like the other two it has proven hard to break.

In wanting to improve this practice Thay has much to teach us. He describes “that when we listen with compassion, we allow ourselves to be empty without any prejudices, without any preconceived ideas. We listen not to judge or criticize; we just listen so as to give the other person the chance to express themselves”.

Digging deeper into this concept Thay goes on to explain that:“even if the person 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.”

So if the 5MT’s and Thay’s words help us focus on how to practice and improve I am still intrigued as to why I / we find it so hard to be better listeners. One of the best books I have read which hits on this issue was by behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman. In his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” he explains how we all have two modes of thinking. Type 1thinking is: fast, unconscious, automatic but often error proneType 2thinking is: slow, conscious, effortful, but more reliable.

It appears to me that practicing Deep Listening is about reminding us that listening not only helps us to be more compassionate and through this compassion help the listener, but also helps us to become better in seeing things as they truly are and not as our Type 1 mind might suggest things are. 

Please, think about your own successes (and challenges) with the practice of deep listening. How do you seek to improve this practice? How can other practices such as sitting, walking, sangha help us to improve? 

I look forward to practicing my own deep listening as you share about your own practice.

-      Andy

Further Resources:

A short talk by Thay on Deep Listening