Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of July 23, 2012

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Listening Presence

(Presence in Daily Life: Part 4)

Listening implies a more active inner stance than hearing. A wide and rich array of sounds forms the normal soundscape of our life. Listening means paying attention to a particular stream of those sounds. Because hearing is passive, requiring nothing from us other than having functioning ears, listening tends to relapse by default back to hearing. Rather than being there to meet the sounds, actively cognizing our auditory perceptions, we sink toward letting sounds just wash across the shores of hearing, not noticing them unless something calls to our attention.

The act of paying attention arises by having our attention drawn to something, an inherently passive event, or by us intentionally placing our attention on something. If someone is speaking to us, their activity draws our attention and we listen, but passively. To bring presence to this situation, we actively join in the act of paying attention to what they are saying, so that we take it in fully. We are present in body, heart, and mind, so we listen with our body, heart, and mind. In presence we act from and with the whole of ourselves. So in listening presence, we listen from and with the whole of ourselves. In a conversation, we get what the other person or persons are communicating to us, including the emotions behind what they are saying and the body language they are using

We can be there, present in the conversation, listening to what the other person is saying, noticing our own mental and emotional reactions, noticing our thoughts, our preparation to respond, our urge to interject. Sometimes we stop listening and start paying more attention to planning what we will say. Then the conversation fragments and the level of communication drops. Can we just listen, without considering and formulating what we will say? Can we just listen without looking for our earliest opportunity to speak, to give our view? Can we give the other person space, sound space, to let them speak until they have said what they wish to say? Do we immediately jump in to say what weíve been storing up? Or do we wait a moment, letting the otherís words settle in us, respecting the other person?

Can we just listen from inner silence, inner presence, in body, heart, and mind? Can we listen consciously from that inner space that we share with the other person? When it is like that, when we are fully present in ourselves, that presence has its home in inner stillness. The other personís presence has their home in that same inner stillness, that same consciousness. Then listening takes on a very different quality. We listen to the sounds, the words, but we also listen to the person, we inwardly open to and connect with that person. Then we hear more of who they are, even when they are not speaking. We are present with them: I and you here.

Of course, we find many other opportunities to listen, outside of conversations or meetings. We listen to formal lectures, carefully following the ideas presented by the speaker. We listen to music, letting it awaken our heart and our body. We can listen to the ordinary soundscape around us at any moment. Rarely do we find ourselves in a sound-free environment. Artificial sounds surround us and offer an opportunity for presence in listening. We can open to notice the whole soundscape that we rarely notice. Itís like an ongoing, mostly artificial, unstructured symphony. Noticing all these sounds widens the reach of our presence, broadens the texture of our life.

The sounds of Nature, though, can connect us with Life and the Elements. We can listen to the insects, birds, and other animals, the wind in the trees, the water rushing in streams, the raindrops falling. Except in its more vigorous manifestations like thunder, we can relax into being ourselves, being part of Nature, through listening with our whole presence. We enter our place as a listener in the soundscape of Nature.

And there is inner listening. We can listen to our thoughts, emotions, and our body. Listening to our inner sounds puts us in context. We are more able to understand that we are not our thoughts, our emotions, or our body.

Between and behind thoughts, between and underneath all sounds, there is stillness, the stillness that is the field of awareness. This is more than silence, more than mere absence of sound. The stillness is palpable, almost viscous. Listening to that stillness itself is a classic and powerful method of meditation.

Lastly, there is the question: who is listening? Naturally, if anyone is listening with my ears, my mind, it is I. I am listening. This is the key difference between hearing and listening. Our body and mind can hear without us being there to take it in. But to listen implies someone is listening. That someone is I.

For this week, practice listening, practice being present in listening, be the listener.


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