Monday, January 10, 2011

The Art of Listening

I’m a talker; I can’t help it. I love life and it excites me. I want to dissect it, understand it, feel it, dance with it, know it and most of all, share it with others. I get so inspired that words just flow. And sometimes they flow, and flow, and flow. I don’t mean to, but it must be the inner tantrika in me coming out. It is our way to savor all that life has to offer and to then bring that experience back to share it with our community. In the sharing we really develop deeper understanding and the whole group can rise up together on the shared knowledge. Talking is great, but so is listening, and the two definitely need to be in relationship with each other.

Tantra is always about relationship, whether global, communal, interpersonal or with our own self. In tantric philosophy, relationship will always be thought of in threes. You, me and the space in between us. In yoga, we talk about this in-between space as the mid-line, as the place where the God and Goddess—Shiva and Shakti—become one. This in-between space is where the two halves connect and wholeness is remembered. Tantra sees the relationship between things as paramount, because at the core, everything is Shiva-Shakti, and the goal is not only to see the Divine beauty in everything but also to bring the two in balance as one.

The sweet pause between the two halves of the whole is a place of stillness and silence. Think about it as the moment between the exhale and the inhale, between night and day or as the eye to eye and heart to heart connection you share with your beloved right before you kiss. These are quiet moments, indeed. And, yet, we frequently fail to pause and listen long enough to make a connection.

If tantra is about relationship, then yoga is always about connection. To put it simply, when we fail to make a connection we are creating suffering or dukha. When we make strong and deep connections then we create ease or sukha. To create strong and deep connections, listening is essential.

For a talker like me, this skill has been one I’ve had to learn and one I continue to practice regularly. About a year ago I began video taping myself teaching yoga classes. The first couple videos I watched, I was shocked at my talkativeness and kept thinking to myself as I viewed them, “Stop talking already!” By editing what doesn’t really need saying, I’ve learned that fewer words have a much more profound impact. I hear myself breathing with my students now and it gives them the time to reflect in their practice and it also helps me be more present with them. But what has most helped me to be a better listener and less of a talker is having people in my life who actually listen to me.

Funny thing is when I finally felt heard by someone who loves me, I stopped having so much to say! I realized that we all have the power to give this gift to each other. When we listen with an open mind and a courageous heart that is free of judgment we are showing the person speaking that we care about them. We value what they think and what they say by hearing them. We are noticing them and stepping into this middle space of listening that not only creates relationship, but also connection.

So what can we do to practice being better listeners? First, stop talking so much. It sounds easy, but if you get excited about life and want to share like I do, it can take a bit of practice. When you do talk, don’t just talk about yourself. Try to meet the person you are conversing with where they are. Ask them questions about themselves or their day that you have an interest in, then give them the space to answer. And, please, make eye contact. Put down your phone, your ipod, your book, your utensil. Turn the TV off, close your computer and be present. Create the space for connection that could improve your relationship and foster ease, instead of suffering.

At first it may feel uncomfortable. There may be silence that you aren’t used to, but be patient and don’t try to fill it. In the silence there is still much being “said.” In the silence we hear what our own heart is whispering to us. In the silence we pause and experience beauty without labeling it or putting it into some kind of box. In the silence we reconnect with the Highest. In the silence we feel love.

1 comment:

  1. This totally reminds me of a quote i had written in my journal from 'The Forty Rules of Love' by Elif Shafak:
    'Most of the problems of the world stem from linguistic mistakes and simple misunderstandings. Don't ever take words at face value. When you step into the zone of Love, language as we know it becomes obsolete. That which cannot be put into words can only be grasped through silence.'