Listening Meditation Part 1: Listening vs. Speaking


“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold” — Turkish proverb

You need to speak in such a way that others love to listen to you. You need to listen in such a way that others love to speak to you. Being a good listener will bring your meditation practice into your everyday life.

Illustration: There is a Pali myth that tells us that one day when the Buddha was about teach his Dharma, two deer approached him, knelt down before him and then raised their ears. In the myth, the two deer symbolize the act of listening. Their perked up ears represent the notion of keen attentiveness. Their kneeling bodies represent calm abiding and respect. The two deer symbolize the receptive state of listening as a way to gain insight and wisdom. This is the nature of auditory meditation or listening meditation.

“When you know how to listen, everyone becomes your guru” —Ram Das

True Listening is an Art

It is a skill that needs to be cultivated and developed. Listening is a truly meditative way of gaining insight and being mindfully present in each moment of your life. The Dalai Lama tells us, “When you speak, you are engaged in what you already know and when you listen you have an opportunity to learn something new.”

True listening is not always easy. We live in a technological world of multitasking that divides our attention, that is filled with distractions and psychological demands. These factors often times leave us inattentive and emotionally unavailable.

Our world often demands that we cultivate the art of speaking but rarely is conducive to real listening. We live in a world where we are encouraged to indulge and gratify our own desires at the expense of others. We are creating a culture in which everyone is encouraged to express themselves but no one actually takes the time to learn how to listen. The results of which finds us often times not really listening at all, simply exchanging rhetoric.

We live in a world of emotional and spiritual isolation, in which we may at times feel the need to actually pay people to listen to us, which is not bad and sometimes desperately needed. Often times when we think we are listening we really aren’t. Our minds are distracted; we are in another place thinking about what we want to say next or something other than what’s being said. In reality, we are actually only listening to ourselves or someone or something else.

Real Communication

“Speaking is a dynamic active process that takes mindfulness to do respectfully. Listening is a more static receptive process and it is exactly what we learn

to do in meditation.”

The Buddha taught us to teach this triple-truth to all: “A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion, these are the things which renew humanity”

How do we apply the Buddha’s teaching in this respect?

For real communication to take place, we need to develop both skills, speaking appropriately with fellow feeling which takes a generous heart and then being able to listen with full intention and attention which takes compassion. We can view this practice as a form of service.

Listening with intention means that we make the effort to put aside our own agenda and focus on the feelings or needs of others.

Listening with attention means that we practice mindfulness when listening, not worrying about what you said previously or what you want to say next, but being in the very present moment while listening to and giving full consideration to someone else.

This is the meditative or mindfulness connection to real listening. Being totally present and in the moment for someone else, which takes focus and mental discipline, these are the qualities we develop in our seated meditation practice.

Often times when trying to listen we may find ourselves compulsively or inadvertently interrupting a conversation in order to regain control of what’s being said rather than contemplating and engaging in the thoughts of another.

Often times we may feel insecure in our role as a listener simply because we have never really taken the time to cultivate the skill before. Giving up one’s sense of what I call ego intention (I, me, mine) in any situation takes courage and confidence.

A good listener is not afraid of someone else’s ideas or of them taking the reigns or control of the power position as speaker. In this respect, real listening is an act of courage, an act of respect for others and a true act of humility. When we truly listen, we are more capable of an honest and compassionate response to what is actually being said.

We show real strength as expressed through our compassion when we truly listen, we do so through our desire to understand and respond to the emotional state of others, right here, right now, in the moment they are speaking to us. Speaking is a dynamic active process that takes mindfulness to do respectfully. Listening is a more static receptive process and it is exactly what we learn to do in meditation.

Together they become a meditative dance, an interplay of human minds. Thus, conversation becomes an art and if it is to be a real communicative experience, both participants need to be thoughtful speakers and mindful listeners.

About the author: Donald Francis is a meditation teacher and freelance writer. Incorporates art, music, poetry and literature into his teaching and makes meditation interesting and relevant to everyone. He lives in London, England.

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Sangha Without Borders is currently physically located in London, UK