There is something unspeakably beautiful about mindful listening to the rain. Not just hearing the rain, in the background of our important lives, but really listening …
I love the way Thomas Merton describes listening to the rain in the cool, pre-dawn hours in his monastery in rural Kentucky:
What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the forest, at night, cherished by this wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech, the most comforting speech in the world, the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges, and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows!
Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, this rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.Thomas Merton’s Rain Text in Improvised Life
I don’t have the leisure to abide in the forest at night cherishing this “wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech” — but I don’t have to. It speaks to me just the same in my busy life.
Listening is intimacy
Listening with mindfulness is intimacy, tenderness, and transformation. It allows us to leave our self and taste something very special: a connection with our self beyond our “self” that defies rational explanation but is deeply satisfying and rejuvenating.
Let’s allow Rumi to explain:
I come to you without me, come to me without you.
Self is the thorn in the sole of the soul.
Merge with others,
If you stay in self, you are a grain, you are a drop,
If you merge with others, you are an ocean, you are a mine.
An interviewer once asked Mother Teresa what she says to God when she prays. “I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I just listen. “ Then the interviewer asked what God says to her. “He doesn’t say anything,” she said. “He just listens. And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.”
Deep listening, in silence, even if no words are spoken, is intimate. Like Mother Teresa we can’t explain this intimacy our mindfulness practice reveals. We simply live it.
Deep listening, in silence, even if no words are spoken, is intimate. Like Mother Teresa we can’t explain this intimacy our mindfulness practice reveals.
We simply live it.
A culture of noise
We have created a culture in which a lot is being said and shared (often via social media) but very few are actually paying attention and listening to each other. We are so distracted by our phones and other devices that we miss out on the important conversations happening right in front of us.
We have become so accustomed to communicating through text and emojis that we have lost the ability to have meaningful, face-to-face conversations. This is a real problem.
People simply need to be heard from time to time. So we end up paying a therapist to really listen to what we have to say.
The inability, or unwillingness, to truly listen to another happens because we are so self-absorbed—our own thoughts are just more important than what the other is saying. We casually allow ourselves to daydream, rehash old stuff, or anticipate some future event, effectively losing the connection with the other.
We don’t listen because we’ve lost touch with the present moment.
To be a good listener, we need to be present and engaged in the conversation. We need to put away our phones and other distractions and focus on the person who is speaking.
We need to make eye contact, nod our heads, and give verbal cues that we are listening. We also need to be patient and allow the person to finish speaking before we respond.
Listening is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. But it is a skill that is worth developing. When we listen to others, we build relationships, learn new things, and grow as people.
Mindful listening with the heart
True mindful listening requires us to care and feel for another. Folks often hear the other through a filter – how does what s/he is saying relate to me? What do I say next so I can score some points?
They often interrupt because they have jumped to conclusions, or just don’t care about what you are saying.
Mindful, heartfelt listening allows us to practice what in Buddhism are called the paramis or spiritual perfections, such as renunciation of the ego’s agenda, giving of oneself, diligence, patience, acceptance, honesty, loving-kindness, compassion and equanimity.
As the well-known American born Buddhist monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu has said:
The paramis or perfections provide a highly useful framework for guiding Dharma practice in daily life. Any activity or relationship approached wisely with the primary purpose of developing the perfections in a balanced way becomes part of the practice.
Authentic listening allows us to cultivate the paramis – and to be open-minded, mindfully grounded in the present moment, and to genuinely care what the other has to say.
Let’s hear more from Thomas Merton
One rainy night in his hermitage at the Abby of Gethsemeni in Kentucky he has this rain epiphany, experiencing the rain at night as a kind of speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody…
Let’s listen to Thomas Merton decribe this epiphany:
I came up here from the monastery last night, sloshing through the cornfield, said Vespers, and put some oatmeal on the Coleman stove for supper. It boiled over while I was listening to the rain and toasting a piece of bread at the log fire. The night became very dark.
The rain surrounded the whole cabin with its enormous virginal myth, a whole world of meaning, of secrecy, of silence, of rumor. Think of it: all that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody, drenching the thick mulch of dead leaves, soaking the trees, filling the gullies and crannies of the wood with water, washing out the places where men have stripped the hillside!Thomas Merton and the Language of Life
Like Mother Teresa — we can’t explain this intimacy deep listening cultivates; our mindfulness practice simply reveals it.
So let’s start with authentic listening today – it is the foundation of all wise, compassionate action, something our world desparately needs.
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