By Adarsh Kaur Khalsa
In the ancient scriptures, listening is described as the highest practice. Listening is known to be healing and cleansing, and it is equivalent to bathing at sacred pilgrimage places. Listening is said to bring wisdom, patience, protection, honor and grace. It removes all errors and pain. Listening can transform a human to be great and courageous—a hero, a saint, a giver. How did the ancients discover that all of this could come from listening, one of the seemingly simplest practices? These gifts do not come from the most complicated meditation, physical strength, or great mental challenge. These results cannot be gained from intelligence or talent. Is the greatest virtue and gift something that we have overlooked? Let's begin with considering listening in everyday life...
Whenever we have a communication breakdown with a loved one or colleague, the blame or the challenge is usually first named as listening. We say, "he is not listening to me.” We do not feel heard or understood. And if we are being honest, we are probably not hearing or understanding that person, either. Our ears may be closed, our bodies turned off or away, and we may even be interrupting and speaking over our friend or partner. Listening is the first step in communication. It is the first step to softening our own wild thoughts and perpetual mental patterns to become aware of what is happening in ourselves, the other person, and the entire situation.
Often, there is resistance to listening. Particularly, there is resistance to listening to people with whom we do not agree. It's a challenge to listen to what we see as false perceptions or incorrect conclusions. It can also be difficult to listen to someone’s emotions (which feel uncomfortable to us) because we have not faced these emotions in ourselves. It can be especially painful to listen to how we have hurt someone or how they might feel about us.
What we usually do rather than listening is interpret or project. Instead of deeply listening directly to the person or the present moment, we interpret what someone is saying. Or, we project our own thoughts and feelings onto what someone else is saying. There may be some really good reasons why patterns of non-listening have developed. If we lived in families as children where there was yelling, violence, lies, secrets, or constant criticism, then we likely shut out part of our listening mechanism. However, as with all things, we shut out listening to the good stuff too, we shut out listening to our own inner voice, and to all of the wisdom and support around us, when we aren't open to listening. Even if it feels painful or unfamiliar, listening is the way through to healing.
To begin to experience the benefits of listening, I recommend starting with this simple practice of listening in a neutral space. It could be in nature, or it could be anywhere, with a little or a lot of noise, it doesn't matter. All you need is 5 minutes:
Sit in a chair or on the floor, take a few long deep breaths and let yourself slow down and become still.
As you sit, begin to open your ears. Take a few deep breaths and consciously relax your ears - from the inside, to the muscles around the ears.
Consciously relax your face, jaw, neck and shoulders.
Feel more awareness around your ears, open both ears to listening.
As you listen, identify each sound that you hear individually. It could be - clock ticking, breath, sound of traffic, voices in the hallway, breeze in the leaves of tree, birds chirping, etc.
Whatever you hear, neutrally identify it, recognize it, and allow for this sound to be part of your experience. No need to stay on any one sound too long, just move on to the next, with no preference for the different types of sounds.
Once you have identified all of the sounds, begin again, and listen more deeply.
You can continue in this way for five minutes, or longer if you like. At the end, inhale deeply, then exhale letting the breath go. Acknowledge gratitude for the sounds, your experience, and taking the time to do this practice.
To begin your increased awareness around listening, there is nothing else that you need to do. Simply taking this time every day to listen will affect how you listen to your own inner voice, and how you listen to others. See how it impacts your other communication and experiences.
Over time, we can develop the capacity for the kind of deep listening that ancient sages spoke about. There is a word, "Suni-ai," which means deep listening, a true listening from the heart. The subtleties and depth of this kind of listening extend to listening to the vibration of the whole Universe. At any given moment, there is an orchestra of nature playing its tune. Some sounds of the universe are pleasant, and some are grating. And yet they all are a part of us at our essence. If we can listen to ALL sounds, we learn more about ourselves and more about this world; it is all teaching us something. Usually we listen quite narrowly: to what we like, what is familiar, what fits into our agenda. There is a humility and a softness to listening without bias and to include all.
There are times of day where it might be easier for you to listen—in the early morning hours or the middle of the night are both times when there is more stillness on the earth. Find your times, and tune in. Also experiment listening when life is most chaotic; it might slow you down and give you answers you didn't know you had questions for. In listening, the messages will come that would have been missed, and the teachers in unexpected places. Literally everything is speaking and vibrating all of the time, and it's time to discover what can be borne in the "silence" of listening.
When we stop crowding our minds and thoughts with new information, we can be more nourished. We are fulfilled with quality, not quantity. When we deeply listen to nature or a beautiful piece of music... wow, what a gift that is. We really experience it, feel it, and enjoy it. The same goes for a rich conversation. With deep listening, we savor the moments. We don't need to rush to the next activity or fix. It turns our interactions and experiences into a gourmet healthy meal, rather than junk food. Creativity and intuition are activated with deep listening. Solutions are discovered, beauty is made, fun is explored. What a gift to yourself and the world to deepen your listening practice.
Other practices to try:
- Listen to one of the many amazing musical recordings of the “Suni-ai” poetry from Japji Sahib. By listening to this vibration, you can deepen your listening practice.
- Try this meditation practice to listen without fear.
- Audio record yourself for an entire day. Then listen. Learn more about yourself, how you express yourself, and how you share yourself with the world with your words. Warning: this can be pretty intense, and revelatory!
Adarsh Kaur Khalsa lives in Los Angeles and loves teaching Kundalini Yoga, Naad Yoga and Celestial Communication. She is also a member of the Aquarian Trainer Academy and the Director of Yoga West, home of Yogi Bhajan. Adarsh Kaur believes the opportunity for spiritual growth is found in the everyday work and relationships of life. She teaches with clarity, grace and kindness, and shares practical tools that students can use outside of class. Follow her on Instagram here.
To learn more meditation techniques and practices to ease your life, join us next month for Holding Home in the Annapurna Living Inner Circle.