"Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others
--- Thich Nhat Hanh
from the Fourth Precept of the Tien Tiep Order
"Folks were so honest" she said with her eyes glowing, "--painfully honest!"
I smiled and thought, "Whoo hoo!"
At that moment, I feel a deep gratitude for what emerges in the Mindfulness Circles each week.
The opportunity to converse openly and honestly about what is nearest to our hearts and soul is a rare and precious thing today. In the hustle bustle of our prototypically materialistic society, comparing notes on the Spiritual dimension of our lives doesn't happen all that much. In fact, when I was a kid we were told not to ever talk about religion--or politics.
Obviously, I didn't follow the rules. I majored in political science in college--and have been an avid student of Spirituality for a long, long time. The wisdom teachings that arise in the mystical traditions of all the world's religions and how they play out in the reality of our day to day lives in this world is profoundly interesting to me. I can't think of anything I'd rather yak about.
Of course, communication, in it's true sense, is much more than conversation. Communication happens on many levels.
As the Practice unfolds and we become more and more aware of other realms of our own experience, we enter a dimension where feelings can be more important than thoughts, where subtler energies form the warp and woof of the conversation. As we bring a clearer awareness and greater kindness to what we encounter in ourselves, we become more capable of being Present for others. With Practice, we can truly speak and listen from the heart.
As we encounter one another, the care and attention that we bring to what we choose to say is important. Although the old adage "sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me" may be thrown around as a defensive weapon, it doesn't relate to the way we generally experience our world. There are many Teachings about the power of words to cause injury. Words can and do cause harm.
I think this may be especially true in our society where "judgment mind" and judgmental language seem so pervasive. We've been deeply conditioned to experience the world as "good/bad, right/wrong"--with the emotional energy of guilt and shame attached to that duality. Immersed in those patterns since we were in the womb, most of us have internalized them and turn them on ourselves and others quite automatically.
Without some care and attention and skill (Marshall Rosenberg's Non-Violent Communication is an excellent tool), we can continue to create a lot of suffering for ourselves and others as our thoughts, laden with judgment and unexamined assumptions, bang around in our heads and emerge from our mouths.
Let Those Who Have Ears, Hear.
How we speak is only one half of the equation. It seems to me that how we listen is actually even more important. The quality of attention we bring to bear as someone else is speaking is crucial. And the Practice enhances our ability to do that. Listening becomes a very valuable and helpful form of meditation.
As we choose to practice what Thich Nhat Hanh refers to as Deep Listening, the person we are listening to becomes our primary meditation object. We hold them in the embracing energy of our heartfelt, full attention. As well as giving us the chance to really hear someone, the energy of that attention will support them in their effort to communicate.
Letting go of those thoughts and returning to the simple act of listening, with our eyes and heart as well as our ears, is as productive here as it is on the meditation cushion. Deep Listening can offer increasing insight into our common humanity -- and our exquisite uniqueness.
With Practice, communication can rise to the level of Communion.
For Thich Nhat Hanh's chapter on the fourth precept from Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts (1993) by Thich Nhat Hanh. Copyright 1993:
Originally posted as "Listening with our Hearts", August 2013. Revised