True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart
"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 with amazement,
" -- painfully honest!"
I smiled and thought, "Whoo hoo! We've created a space where people can share their authentic selves, where open-hearted intimacy is possible."
At that moment, I felt deep gratitude for what emerges in the Mindfulness Circles that I'm privileged to facilitate each week. Sitting here, five years down the road, I still do.
The opportunity to speak 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 sped up, noisy, materialistic society, openly sharing the challenges and wonders of the deeper dimensions of our Lives and comparing notes on our Spiritual Practice doesn't happen all that much.
In fact, when I was a kid we were told not to ever talk about religion--or politics.
I didn't follow the rules.
I majored in political science in college and, along with my identical twin Brother Lefty, have been an activist for much of the past 50 years. Having been inspired by the Civil Rights movement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi, I've considered the human movements for peace and justice to be a Spiritual Quest. Being swept up in the Collective Kensho of the late sixties and early seventies as well, the mysticism and meditation practices of the world's religions and how they play out in the reality of our day to day lives continues to be profoundly interesting to me.
So, religion and politics? I can't think of anything I'd rather yak about.
Of course, communication, in it's deepest sense, is much more than just talking. At it's best, it becomes Communion.
Heart to Heart: True Communication
True Communication happens on many levels.
For most of us, much of the time there is a whole realm of communication that goes on beneath our level of conscious awareness. If we are really paying attention we readily see that words are only a portion of what is being communicated. A person's tone of voice and inflections contribute to the message's meaning. A great deal is also being communicated through facial expressions, gestures and other body language.
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 much more important than thoughts, where even 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, in the moment, to our own experience and that of others. With Practice, we can truly speak and listen from the heart.
This can change everything.
Judge Not and ...
As we encounter one another, the care and attention that we bring to what we choose to say and how we choose to say it 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 and can and do cause harm.
I think this may be especially true in our society where "judgment mind" and judgmental language are so pervasive. We've been deeply conditioned to experience the world as "good/bad, right/wrong"--with the emotional energies of blame, guilt, and shame attached to that duality. Immersed in those patterns since we were in the womb, most of us have internalized these judgemental patterns, and turn them on ourselves and others quite automatically.
Without some care and attention and skill (Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication is an excellent tool), we can continue to create a lot of suffering for ourselves and others as our thoughts, laden with emotional energies of judgment mind, unexamined assumptions, and misunderstandings bang around in our heads and bodies -- and then emerge from our mouths.
Let Those Who Have Ears, Hear.
How we speak is only one half of the equation, though.
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 just that. Listening becomes a very valuable helpful and practical 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.
All too often, we are listening in order to respond, not to understand. Oftentimes, we are automatically creating our response (thinking, thinking) long before we may have actually heard what the other person is really saying.
Letting go of those thoughts and returning to the simple act of being Present, listening with our whole being, 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.
As I've found again and again in the Circles and in other settings, communication can rise to the level of Communion.
It just takes Practice.
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