listening

Listening as meditation

listening meditation

I recently wrote a post about how we can use listening as a way to quiet the mind, and how the arising of thoughts can become a “mindfulness bell,” calling us back to mindful attentiveness of the sounds around us. (The post was specifically about persistent thoughts that take the form of music, but the same approach works for all thoughts.)

A commenter on that post directed me to a video featuring the Canadian composer, writer, music educator and environmentalist R. Murray Schafer. In the video, Schafer very cleverly leads us into a form of listening meditation, in which he guides us from being mindful of recorded sounds to the “real” sounds in our personal environment. There’s a clever fake-out toward the end of the video that I didn’t see coming!

Enjoy!

See also:

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Mindfulness: Week 4 – sounds and thoughts and a poem

John Alex Murphy, The Province: I was blessed with many peaceful meditations, some moments of profound insight and a few fond memories of my Mother during Week 4 of my amazing eight-week mindfulness meditation journey.

This week’s daily practice was comprised of the “Breath and Body” meditation, and “The Three-Minute Breathing Space” meditation. Although this was my second week of practice with these two meditations, I still enjoyed a new and exciting voyage of self-discovery every time I meditated.

My Week 4 practice also included an eight-minute meditation entitled Sounds and Thoughts that proved to be enlightening for me. Let me share with you …

Read the original article »

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The sacred art of listening – nourishing loving relationships

Tara Brach

To listen is to lean in softly
With a willingness to be changed
By what we hear
-Mark Nepo

What happens when there’s a listening presence? When we’re fully in that listening presence, when there’s that pure quality of receptivity, we become presence itself. And whether you call that God or pure awareness or our true nature, the boundary of inner and outer dissolves and we become a luminous field of awakeness. When we’re in that open presence we can really respond to the life that’s here. We fall in love.

This state of listening is the precursor or the prerequisite to loving relatedness. The more you understand the state of listening– of being able to have the sounds of rain wash through you, of receiving the sound and tone of another’s voice– the more you know about nurturing a loving relationship.

In a way it’s an extremely vulnerable position. As soon as you stop planning what you’re going to say or managing what the other person’s saying, all of a sudden, there’s no control. You’re open to your own sadness, your own anger and discomfort. Listening means putting down control. It’s not a small thing to do.

We spend most of our moments when someone is speaking, planning what we’re going to say, evaluating it, trying to come up with our presentation of our self, or controlling the situation.

Pure listening is a letting go of control. It’s not easy and takes training. And yet it’s only when we can let go of that controlling that we open up to the real purity of loving. We can’t see or understand someone in the moments that we are trying to control what they are saying or trying to impress them with what we are saying. There’s no space for that person to just unfold and be who they are. Listening and unconditionally receiving what another expresses, is an expression of love.

The bottom line is when we are listened to, we feel connected. When we’re not listened to, we feel separate. So whether it’s the communicating between different tribes or religions, ethnicities, racial groups or different generations, we need to listen. The more we understand, the less we fear; the less we fear, the more we trust and the more we trust, the more love can flow.

Isn’t it true to that to get to know the beauty and majesty of a tree
You have to be quiet and rest in the shade of the tree?
Don’t you have to stand under the tree?
To understand anyone, you need to stand under them for a little while
What does that mean?
Its mean you have to listen to them and be quiet and take in who they are
As if from under, as if from inside out.

Adapted from my book Radical Acceptance (2013). Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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Prayer in the face of difficulty…

Ask the friend for love
Ask him again
For I have found that every heart
Will get what it prays for most.
– Hafiz

When offered with presence and sincerity, the practice of prayer can reveal the source of what your heart most deeply longs for—the loving essence of who you are. Perhaps without naming it as prayer, in times of great need and distress you may already spontaneously experience the act of doing so. For instance, you might find yourself saying something like, “Oh please, oh please” as you call out for relief from pain, for someone to take care of you, for help for a loved one, for a way to avoid great loss.

If so, I invite you to investigate your experience of prayer through mindful inquiry, asking yourself questions such as: What is the immediate feeling that gave rise to my prayer? What am I praying for? Whom or what am I praying to? The more aware you become of how you pray spontaneously, the more you might open to a more intentional practice. Below are some guidelines I offer my students for deepening their inquiry:

1. Posture for prayer: You might begin by asking yourself, If I bring my palms together at my heart, do I feel connected with my sincerity and openness? What happens if I close my eyes? If I bow my head? Find out whether these traditional supports for prayer serve you. If they don’t, explore what other positions or gestures feel the most conducive to openheartedness.

2. Arriving: Even when you’re in the thick of very strong emotion, it’s possible and valuable to pause and establish a sense of prayerful presence. After you’ve assumed whatever posture most suits you, allow yourself to come into stillness, then take a few long and full breaths to collect your attention. After a while, as your breath resumes its natural rhythm, take some moments to relax any obvious tension in your body. Feel yourself here, now, with the intention to pray.

3. Listening: With the intention of fully contacting your felt experience, bring a listening attention to your heart, and to whatever in your life feels most difficult right now. It might be a recent or impending loss, or a situation that summons hurt, confusion, doubt, or fear. As if watching a movie, focus on the frame of the film that’s most emotionally painful. Be aware of the felt sense in your body—in your throat, chest, belly, and elsewhere. Where are your feelings the strongest? Take your time, allowing yourself to fully contact your vulnerability and pain.

You might even imagine that you could inhabit the most vulnerable place within you, feeling it intimately from the inside. If it could express itself, what would it communicate? Buried inside the pain, what does this part of you want or need most? Is it to be seen and understood? Loved? Accepted? Safe? Is your longing directed toward a certain person or spiritual figure? Do you long to be held by your mother? Recognized and approved of by your father? Healed or protected by God? Whatever the need, let yourself listen to it, feel it, and open to its intensity.

4. Expressing Your Prayer: With a silent or whispered prayer, call out for the love, understanding, protection, or acceptance you long for. You might find yourself saying, “Please, may I be better, kinder, and more worthy.” Or you might direct your prayer to another person or being: “Daddy, please don’t leave me.” “Mommy, please help me.” “God, take care of my daughter, please, please, let her be okay.” You might feel separate from someone and call out his or her name, saying, “Please love me, please love me.” You might long for your heart to awaken and call out to the bodhisattva of compassion (Kwan-yin), “Please, may this heart open and be free.”

As you express your prayer in words, while staying in direct contact with your vulnerability and felt sense of longing, your prayer will continue to deepen. Say your prayer several times with all the sincerity of your heart. Find out what happens if you give yourself totally to feeling and expressing your longing.

5. Embodying Prayer: Often our particular want or longing isn’t the full expression of what we actually desire. Similarly, the object of our longing, the person we call on for love or protection, may not offer what we truly need. Rather, these are portals to a deeper experience, an opening to a deeper source.

True Refuge, published Jan 2013. Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

True Refuge, published Jan 2013. Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

As you feel your wants and longing, ask yourself, “What is the experience I yearn for? If I got what I wanted, what would it feel like?”

Use you imagination to find out. If you want a particular person to love you, visualize that person hugging you and looking at you with unconditional love. Then, let go of any image of that person and feel inwardly that you are being bathed in love. If you want to feel safe, imagine that you are entirely surrounded by a protective presence, and really feel that peace and ease filling your every cell. Whatever you’re longing for, explore what it would be like to experience its pure essence as a felt sense in your body, heart, and mind. Finally, discover what happens when you surrender into this experience, when you become the love or peace that you’re longing for.

6. Throughout the Day: While your formal exploration of prayer can create the grounds for weaving shorter prayers into your life, remembering to pray in the midst of daily activities can help you become aligned with the kindness and wisdom of your heart. Here are some suggestions:

  • At the beginning of the day, set your intention by asking yourself, What situations, emotions, or reactions might be a signal to pray?
  • Before praying, take a moment to pause, breathe, and relax. While it is helpful to become still, there’s no need to assume a particular posture.
  • Pay attention to your body and heart, contacting the felt sense of your emotions. What are you most longing for? What most matters in this moment, and in your life, to open to—to feel and trust?
  • Mentally whisper your prayer. The words might come spontaneously, or you might express a prayer you’ve already discovered that’s alive and meaningful to you.

Adapted from True Refuge (January 2013)

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Listening as a meditation practice

Nipper the dog listening to a gramophone player

For Day 45 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge I wanted to post something I wrote in response to one of our participants who found it useful to set a bell to ring every so often while she was meditating.

What I’ve found is that when I’m listening very intently to something, I can’t also do much (if any) thinking. So listening to a gong can be very calming.

When we’re listening we’re also being very receptive and open, and opposed to all the “doing” we normally, well, do. That “doing,” if were not being very mindful, tends to make us close off to our experience, so that we can become very willful. The ideal is combining doing and receptivity, so that the doing takes place within a greater context of not-doing. But periods of pure “not doing” are a good practice.

https://www.wildmind.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/170672__eliasheuninck__singing-bowl-low-and-quiet.mp

Also, a bell naturally fades away into the void. It can get so that you’re not sure whether you’re listening to the last traces of the bell, or whether you’re listening to silence. And listening to silence is a great practice.

And lastly when you listen to a bell, it’s possible to be aware that there’s not just one “thing” you’re listening to. Every moment is different. Every moment is a combination of multitudinous arisings and fallings, beginnings and endings. And so in listening to a bell we can start to have a greater appreciation of impermanence and non-self; the sound of the bell doesn’t have a “self” — it’s not a thing. It’s composed instead of those myriad arisings and passings-away, just as we are.

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Mindful listening calms the mind

100 Day Meditation Challenge

Day 17 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

A common problem people have in a challenge like this is the “inner narrator” who keeps up a running commentary on how your meditation is going. This is particularly a problem when we’re going to be reporting on our practice to others, as we do in Wildmind’s Google+ Community (now defunct, and replaced by a new community website that’s part of Wildmind’s Meditation Initiative).

One thing that I find very effective is saying “It can wait.” This is what I’ve called “The Mantra for the 21st Century.” This statement affirms that the commentary might be useful, but also affirms that the present moment is not the appropriate time for it.

See also:

Listening helps. It’s not possible to listen to what’s going on around you 100% and also keep up an inner monologue. So try doing “mindfulness of listening” where you’re paying attention to the 360° of space around you. See if you can get a feeling of your attention stretching in all directions at once — with just a gentle effort, like tugging a sheet from all directions at once in order to flatten out the wrinkles. The sounds around you are not distractions. They’re your object of meditation. Don’t judge them (you can’t fully listen to them and judge them anyway!), but just allow them to be.

Then you treat inner chatter as a mindfulness bell. The chatter only starts when you let this full-on 360° listening slip, so its arrival is a gentle reminder to return to mindful listening.

I find this approach to be very powerful. It can’t really fail, because it’s self-correcting. Thoughts are a reminder to come back to listening. Listening prevents thinking. So you keep oscillating between the two, with no judgement, which isn’t really a problem since the thinking isn’t a “failure” but part of your “mindfulness reminder system.”

Day 16 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

Day 18 of Wildmind’s 100 Day Meditation Challenge

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A Buddhist’s perspective on biblical ways to love

Book of Corinthians

I just read a list of biblical suggestions for ways to show love and I was inspired to write this article including a Buddhist’s perspective of ways to carry out the suggestions on the list.

Ten ways to show people you love them:

  1. Listen without interrupting. (Proverbs 18) – When someone is speaking, the most loving thing we can do is listen. And, if we are really listening, we are not thinking of how to respond or how to get our point across or asking questions or saying anything. We are simply listening to hear and understand what the person is saying. So, the next time you are listening to someone, wait until the person is finished and then respond.
  2. Speak without accusing. (James 1:19) – We all have times with our partners, family members and friends when we disagree, feel disappointed, feel hurt or get angry. When someone accuses us of doing something, we can respond honestly, without blaming or accusing them, by gently speaking from our own experience including: how we felt, what we heard and how we responded. Whenever we accuse or blame someone, they feel defensive and communication is blocked.
  3. Give without sparing. (Proverbs 21:26) – A friend of mine suggested “Always follow through on an impulse of generosity”. I love this idea and put it into practice as often as possible. Yesterday I was selling tote bags and jewelry at a Crafts Fair. A young woman, with two young children, was at a table next to mine. She came to see my jewelry and found a necklace she liked. She told me she would love the necklace but she works at a Child Care Center and cannot wear jewelry to work. She went back to her table where she was selling things her students made so they could take the proceeds and purchase holiday gifts for children who otherwise wouldn’t have them. I put the necklace she liked in a box and gave it to her and told her I would like her to have it. We were both very happy. At the end of the Crafts Fair, she came back to my table with a box, filled with goodies to make a gingerbread house and offered it to me. I accepted her gift and agreed with her when she said “After all, it’s all about creating community.”
  4. Pray without ceasing. (Colossians 1:9) At times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed, uninspired, exhausted or hopeless, the best we can do is to meditate or pray.
  5. Answer without arguing. (Proverbs 17:1) Recently I received an email from a friend (Cindy) who told me she heard from a friend (Janet) who was upset because they had not gotten together for a long time. Janet has a relationship that is on again, off again and Cindy hears from her when the relationship is in the “off again” mode. Janet expects Cindy to be available when Janet wants to get together. Cindy loves Janet but feels Janet takes advantage of their friendship. Cindy wrote to Janet and expressed her feelings. Janet got defensive and argued her case. Cindy refused to enter into an argument and although they didn’t come to an agreement, Cindy left the door open for further communication. When two people argue, it is unlikely they will find a resolution.
  6. Share without pretending. (Ephesians 4:15) Real sharing comes from the heart, without pretense of giving something because it is expected or given with strings attached.
  7. Enjoy without complaint. (Philippians 2:14) Real enjoyment comes when we are wholeheartedly in the present moment. When we have a tendency to find fault with or complain about things, we stop ourselves from enjoying life.
  8. Trust without wavering. (Corinthians 13:7) Many people grow up in situations where they learn not to trust people. This lack of trust can become a habit, a way of protecting ourselves, but it also interferes with closeness with others. When we are aware that we lack trust, it is important to make a resolution to learn to trust again, not blindly, but with wisdom and compassion for ourselves and others.
  9. Forgive without punishing. (Colossians 3:13) People will disappoint us and we will forgive them and when we do, the forgiveness should come without conditions or punishment.
  10. Promise without forgetting. (Proverbs 13:12) It is so important to follow through with our promises so that we are trustworthy and dependable.
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Asking questions in order to become a good listener

illuminated question mark on its side

My dad grew up on a ranch in North Dakota. He has a saying from his childhood – you may have heard it elsewhere – that’s: “You learn more by listening than by talking.”

Sure, we often gain by thinking out loud, including discovering our truth by speaking it. But on the whole, listening brings lots more valuable information than talking does.

Nonetheless, many people are not the greatest listeners. (You’ve probably noticed this already: at work, at home, when you’re trying to work something out with your partner . . .) What’s it feel like when they don’t listen to you? Or maybe listen, but don’t inquire further? It’s not good. Besides missing out on important information – including, often most importantly, your underlying feelings and wants – they’re sending the implicit message that they’re not that interested (even though, deep down, they might be).

Then turn it around: what do you think they feel like if you don’t listen that well to them? Not very good either.

Being a good listener brings many benefits: gathering useful information, making others feel like they matter to you, sustaining a sense of connection with people, and stepping out of your own familiar frame of reference.

One of the best ways to listen well is to ask questions. It makes you an active listener, it shows that you’ve been paying attention, it can get things out in the open (Mommy, is that emperor parading in his boxers?!), and it slows down emotional conversations so they don’t get out of hand.

So how can we learn to be more enquiring?

As a therapist, I ask questions for a living. Plus I’ve been married a long time through thick and thin, and raised two kids. As they say in medicine: good judgment comes from experience . . . and experience comes from bad judgment. So I offer some fruits of my bad judgments!

  • Questions can be nonverbal. A raised eyebrow, a nod to say more, or simply letting there be a bit of silence are all signals to the other person to keep going.
  • Have good intentions. Don’t ask questions like a prosecutor. It’s fine to try to get to the bottom of things – whether it’s what bothered your mate the most about her conversation with her friend, or what your son is actually doing this Saturday night, or what your role is supposed to be in an upcoming business meeting. But don’t use questions to make others look bad.
  • Keep the tone gentle. Remember that being asked a question – particularly, a series of questions – can feel invasive, critical, or controlling to the person on the receiving end; think of all the times that kids get asked questions as a prelude to a scolding or other punishment. You could check in with the other person to make sure your questions are welcome. Slow questions down so they don’t come rat-tat-tat. And intersperse them with self-disclosure that matches, more or less, the emotional depth of what the other person is saying; this way they’re not putting all their cards on the table while you keep yours close to the chest.
  • As appropriate, persist in getting a clear answer. If you sense there’s still some problematic fuzziness or wiggle room in the other person’s answers, or simply more to learn, you could ask the question again, maybe in a different way. Or explain – without accusation – why you’re still unclear about what the other person is saying. Or ask additional questions that could help surface the deeper layers of the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

Different kinds of questions are appropriate for different situations. For example, trying to get clearer about a project your boss wants you to do is definitely not like a delicate inquiry into what might help things go better in a physically intimate relationship. Questions about facts or plans are usually pretty straightforward. For the murkier, more emotionally charged territory of friends and family, here are some possibilities:

  • How was _______ for you?
  • What do you appreciate about _______ ? What bothers (or worries) you about _______ ? Are there other things you’re feeling (or wanting) besides ______?
  • What did this remind you of?
  • What did you wish had happened, instead?
  • What’s the most important thing here, for you?
  • What would it look like if you got what you wanted here? (Or: “. . . what you wanted from me?”)
  • How would you like it to be from now on?
  • Could you say more about _______ ?

If your intentions are good, it’s really OK to ask questions. Usually, people welcome them. Take confidence in your good intentions and good heart.

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Listening to our children

Listening helps children feel important, appreciated, and respected. A conversation that could have just touched the surface, deepens dramatically when we really listen to our children.

Parents who listen to their children help them to know what that have to say matters.,

Active listening is a skill that goes beyond just hearing words. It takes energy and understanding what feelings are beneath the words — the emotions and context within which the words are framed.

Here are some tips for active listening:

1. Give your child your entire attention. Don’t be thinking of what you will say when it is your turn to speak.

2. Maintain eye contact and make sure your body language shows you are listening by leaning forward.

3. Don’t multitask when you are listening – just listen to what is being said.

4. Do not get distracted by noises, people or your own thoughts.

5. Keep open to what your child is saying. If you don’t agree, take in what your child says and wait until he or she is finished before responding.

6. Ask clarifying questions without interrupting your child.

You will know you have actively listened when your child seems more at ease after your conversation. Listening to our children validates their experience.

Each evening when you put your child to sleep, ask them what was the best or hardest part of their day and really listen. Your child will know that he or she is important to you.

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Thich Nhat Hanh: “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

What exactly does Thich Nhat Hanh mean by “presence”? And how is it a gift to others?

When I first started consciously practicing mindfulness in my day-to-day activities, this was one of the first areas I explored. I watched what was running though my head one day as I chatted over lunch with a work colleague. I was dismayed to realize how often I was not really paying attention to him. As he talked about a project we worked on together, I discovered I was busy formulating my own ideas about it. When he continued talking for a long while, I found myself wandering off and planning my afternoon meetings. In short, I was pursuing my own agenda somewhere in the future, not being fully in the present with him. That was something of an eye opener!

I’ve now come to realize, sadly, that it’s a rare event when we’re really, truly present with others. There are many ways we can fall into the trap of not doing so. Our own views, agendas, and opinions come along with us, usually unwittingly, and can easily stand in the way of seeing others clearly, as they really are.

One particularly challenging example is when we’re with someone who is in pain, in trouble, or otherwise in need. If this person is someone we care about, we naturally want to do everything we can to help. But how much of our response is about our wanting to “fix” things in our own way? Or about assuaging our own discomfort and anxiety over seeing this person in pain? Or about living up to our own self-image as a kind and helpful person? Or keeping score — in the hope that if I do this now, they’ll repay me in kind in the future? These are all self-centered motivations disguised as altruism. And even if we DO have a genuine desire to help that person, it’s almost inevitable that some amount of these mixed motives creep into our thoughts and actions.

If helping people is our profession, yet another layer of complication comes into play. If our self-identity gets too wrapped up in our job role, we can find ourselves relating to others through the mask of our professionalism. Is it really me that’s present, or is it the nurse, counselor, teacher, or whatever, that’s doing the talking? Are we using our role as a way to avoid connecting with this person, heart to heart?

Another difficult situation is when the other person is doing something we consider “wrong.” Maybe they’re doing something illegal or unethical; maybe they’re doing something that’s hurtful to someone else or perhaps to themselves. When we become convinced of the rightness of our position (and hence the wrongness of theirs), we become polarized and fall into the trap of self-righteousness. It’s another way that our own views prevent us from truly walking in the other person’s shoes, as the saying goes.

So then, does being mindful mean being passive and allowing the other person to continue on in pain or creating a mess of their lives? Of course not!

In my view, mindfulness has to begin with a respect for the other person’s dignity and rationality. By this I mean, no matter how much I might disagree with what they’re doing, I make an effort to understand why they’re doing it and what circumstances got them there. It means suspending my own views and really appreciating the situation completely from their perspective – not just intellectually, but in my heart.

Mindful presence also means putting my self-centered motivations aside. Even if I can’t get rid of them, I can at least try to avoid using them as the filters through which I look at the situation. This includes putting aside my fears. What is it that prevents me from opening my heart to this other being? Am I afraid of getting hurt? Making a fool of myself? Making a professional blunder? What is it, really, that puts a wall of separation between me and this other human being who is fundamentally just like me?

Of course, there are times when the best thing to do is for us to step in and take action before any further damage is done. We need to do this in a way that, on balance, causes the least harm to everyone involved. Perhaps we need to act strongly toward someone to prevent them from doing something far worse. But it should be our last resort, done only after we’ve really walked in the other person shoes for a while.

And above all, mindfulness is about patience. It recognizes that changes need time, and that we cannot make things happen on our desired schedule. And some things are completely beyond our ability to change (as people often are). We can’t make a flower bloom when we want it to. In some cases, it might not bloom at all. But we can set the best possible conditions to support its happening. So we fertilize the soil and provide water and sunshine. Then we must wait, patiently and without expectations.

Sometimes this is all we can do. Some situations can’t be “fixed,” but can only be fertilized, watered, and given the sunshine of our mindful presence. This is what I believe Thich Nhat Hanh is talking about. It’s when we drop all our clinging to self-concerns and offer our naked, vulnerable humanity to another person. It’s this profound connection with another being that forms the soil upon which positive growth and change takes place.

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