I have never been much of a listener. I have always used my ability to articulate as a way to know myself. I am a fast thinker and am often onto the next idea while half listening to the people I love most. I have been working on my listening skills for a long time, although most of my work comes in the form of apologies in the moments when my unskilled ears and deliberate tongue intrude and bring both misunderstanding and shame in its wake.
It is hard to work at something that brings up so many bad feelings about oneself. Our defense mechanism is always on alert, which leaves little room to actually look at developing new skills. It is my meditation work that has taught me a new respect and desire to listen. I have learned that what I am seeking most deeply is available in deep listening, and all that all the talking in the world won’t bring me near. This is a remarkable discovery for a woman who has defined her life through her words.
Instead of speaking I have been listening over and over again to this Rumi poem called Listening. I want to be comfortable without speaking. I want to feel the deep ear in my heart, I want to listen for the silence and the spaces behind and between the words. I want to be able to listen for what is already in me, waiting to wake up and be seen. Mostly, I want to bear witness to how listening has the power to change the deep dynamics in my relationship to myself and the people I love.
What is the deep listening?
Sama is a greeting from the secret ones inside
the heart, a letter. The branches of
your intelligence grow new leaves in
the wind of this listening. The body
reaches a peace. Rooster sound comes,
reminding you of your love for dawn.
The reed flute and the singer’s lips:
the knack of how spirit breathes into
us becomes as simple and ordinary as
eating and drinking. The dead rise with
the pleasure of listening. If someone
can’t hear a trumpet melody, sprinkle
dirt on his head and declare him dead.
Listen, and feel the beauty of your
separation, the unsayable absence.
There’s a moon inside every human being.
Learn to be companions with it. Give
more of your life to this listening. As
brightness is to time, so you are to
the one who talks to the deep ear in
your chest. I should sell my tongue
and buy a thousand ears when that
one steps near and begins to speak.
— Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273)