It’s been raining a lot here in Honolulu. There is something unspeakably beautiful about listening to the rain. Not just hearing the rain, in the background of our important lives, but actually listening to it.
As Thomas Merton explains:
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.
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 in this way, with our precious mindfulness, is intimacy, is tenderness, is transformative – because it allows us to leave our self, and taste something very special. A connection with our self beyond our “self” which defies rational explanation, but which is deeply satisfying and rejuvenative.
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.
Sadly, we’ve 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. I’ve seen two people apparently carrying on a conversation, sitting at a coffee shop, while both had smartphone earbuds in both ears.
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, re-hash 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.
True 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.
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.
And our world right now is starving for wise, compassionate action.