Human beings all over the world have one common complaint- we do not feel appreciated, heard or understood. It is not surprising we all feel this way because each and every one of us is preoccupied with our own petty, self-centred problems, desires, ambitions and worries which sadly we take with us wherever we go. Deep- rooted resentment separates us from our fellows and judging, whinging and criticising become annoying habits in all of us. It seems we all like to complain about others to each other in an attempt to feel justified, righteous and sympathetic.

We seldom hear other because we only listen in terms of identification.
How often are we listening to a friend and when we find identification we turn the conversation around to our experience, our thoughts, our opinions and our story? How often do we find others do the same to us and we take notice of it?

To break away from this habit, like breaking any habit, we must first be aware we are doing it. When we are in communication, in listening to others we can uncover our own self-formed beliefs, judgements and criticisms; this form of listening is the one we must practice until it becomes an art all of its own. When we catch ourselves noticing the lack of attention in others, can we perceive the same in ourselves- that is the point at which we have developed the art of listening. This approach unburdens us from that time-wasting habit of gossip, complaining and whining.

If we try an experiment, to see how we actually listen, we are surprised at how difficult it is. We soon discover that the only voice we are actually listening to is our own. Unlike, an audible voice, our inner voice we recognise as thought. It seems to chatter away all day long. At times, it brings forth imagination, ideas, pleasant memories, provides familiarity and on occasion, in a flash reminds us of something we had forgotten and moves us to tears. Other times, we want the chatter to stop and no amount of distraction will quieten it. It feels it is out of our control. If we are earnest, then we already know that thought blocks us from properly listening.

If we find it difficult to remain attentive then writing down as much as we can throughout the day our thoughts and feelings, our varying reactions to situations which cause guilt, mistrust, anger, envy, negativity etc and our motives behind what and why we say, do, express, and desire. Then, setting some time aside either in the morning or before bed we can examine, inspect and study what has been noted down. The reflection of what is written down must be done without criticism, reproach and judgement. Remember, the purpose of such an experiment is to learn to listen- not to improve, berate or judge ourselves.

We become aware of our own thinking, the thoughts that arise, the distractions, and how our defence mechanism reacts when challenged by particular words we hear, people and their gestures, certain places, circumstances and triggers that bring about panic, stress or fear . We begin to know ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, our conflicts and troubles as we go about our day. We begin to listen differently. We begin to pay attention to how we react to our environment and how the environment moulds our thoughts and feelings. We begin to be receptive to more than just the words. Receptivity brings about an attitude of openness, interest, friendliness and as we learn about ourselves in real-time rather than from hindsight.

We quickly become aware of the tricks, the hoops and the game of hide and seek thought plays with itself to avoid facing what really matters to us. Without developing this art of listening, the mind forms beautiful pictures, invents experiences and builds castles in the sky only to later tear it all down when we feel hurt, disappointed and resentful when events, relationships and people fall short of the images we have created. It is the discarding of our deep aches in an inattentive fashion that keeps us tethered to misery and loneliness. If we are painstakingly honest with ourselves through the experiment, then listening gifts us with such strength and lucidity that we can hear in a flash, not only in ourselves, in others and in society, what is false, but more importantly what is genuine. We can read between the lines and question rather than jump to conclusions. We have by now discovered how to use our mind. We also discover the beauty, the love and the compassion we can have for ourselves because we have learned the art of listening without condemnation.

So, if we are ever to be free of our conflict, contradiction and the misery caused by them; we must learn to listen more deeply without criticism, reproach and judgement. Just listen!

Article by Shilpa Vyas, author of The Art of Listening – a downloadable discourse filled with infinite wisdom.  

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