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Silence and the Art of Listening-Speaking

March, 2012

Please read slowly, with pauses for reflection.

"When we listen attentively there is neither agreement or disagreement; we are just in a state of attention"
   -J. Krishnamurti

Can you hear that sound?

There are sounds in your world right now. Notice the auditory vibrations around you without judgment, without choosing the bird and ignoring the car or any 'this' over any 'that'.

In noticing these vibrations, can you sense, perhaps intuit, the silence from which they come and to which they return? (This takes a bit of time). When we become quiet enough, we begin to notice the space of silence, of stillness, out of which moments emerge and to which they return. This is relatively easy to learn, and extremely important. AND it is not enough! What happens in human interaction?

I want to learn to listen better. Even as I deepen my connection to the ground of silence, I notice how challenging it is to really listen to the people in my world, especially my most intimate relations. My opinions and needs seem to overwhelm my capacity to just take in the living experience of the other. The desire to be 'right' begins to dominate these and other conversations.

For example, when I hear people speaking aggressively from a different political persuasion it happens, my need to convince, to correct errors, to make it more like "I" see it. I tell myself that this reactivity is a commitment to truth yet deep down I sense the personal angst that arises when really setting aside my own views and just listening. At moments like these, remembering silence is critical.

Returning to this welcoming quality of stillness is always vivifying and restorative. In human interaction, this means giving listening a priority of place. It seems to me there are three directions to listening: 1) toward the other, 2) toward our pre-verbal, intuitive inner life and 3) toward a larger truth that is woven through the process of interacting. All three are always much more than the words that are being spoken.

True listening requires the courageous act of putting our point of view to the side, not too far away, more like next to ourselves. We don't want to lose or undervalue our perspectives from the past yet we want to be free from them as new possibilities are forming.

There can be a conundrum here. Knowing the great value of silence, of "the place before opinions", I sometimes undervalue the world of human interaction, which includes diverse opinions and points of view. Since all views are always only partial, I sense a temptation to linger in the more profound truth of silence. Not capable of saying "All", a part of me says, "why say any"? As a very quiet friend of mine used to say, "if you can't improve upon the silence don't speak"!

Yet, I also sense that we grow each other through conversation. I am changed by your thoughtful, honest and heartfelt communications. Offering each other an expression of what is living in us can be a gift of great intimacy. We are constantly re-forming our "self" through interacting. Questioning ourselves and each other in the earnest seeking of truth has value for our individual and collective learning.

Growing the capacity to disagree, to hone our truth against a contrary view in supportive and creative ways is important. The old style of fighting for our views, of being clever to 'win' is not helpful. The newer strategy of seeing equal truth in all views does not evoke the highest clarity in human beings. Even as we grow our connection to silence, to that space before ideas/beliefs/desires, we can also develop our capacity for "listening-speaking".

Listening-speaking places a high value on pausing, taking a breath, dropping down into our embodied sensations. We step out of our reactivity, out of our certainty. We allow the silence that sustains each moment to permeate the interaction, saturating it with fresh air and new possibilities. This is truly a creative act. Truth, beauty and goodness become more important than being right!

What kind of speaking arises from this deep listening? Often, the expression that comes from this inner place is something new, something that surprises the speaker. It is a fresh understanding that is born from that moment of interacting. Often these are moments of insight and new direction for both the speaker and companions.

Cultivating this kind of "listening-speaking" is both challenging and essential. The good news is that the space of silence, of stillness is never far away. It is an expression of our Being. It is closer than our skin. It always invites a sense of being at home in the Universe. From this ground, we can feel safe enough to put aside our opinions, our need to be right and really listen. Then we can also seek and often find a way to speak a newly forming truth.

This is my goal for the New Year. I will fall down many times, then I will stand up, return to silence, apologize, listen-speak and continue learning………


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