Monday, June 09, 2008

Listening as a Spiritual Practice

Listening as a Spiritual Practice by Gina Lake

Engaging in anything fully has the ability to still the mind. Meditation is the most common spiritual practice used to still the mind. In meditation, you give your full attention to something: to the breath; to a sound, such as a mantra or music; to an image, such as a candle flame, a mandala, or a picture of a saint; or to a sensation in the body or in the energy related to the body.

A kind of meditation also takes place when you give yourself fully to any activity. Walking meditations are an example of this, but any activity, such as hiking through the woods, running, making art, or being engaged in a hobby or a sport has the potential for focusing and quieting your mind.

A quiet mind is the cornerstone of spiritual practice because it allows the Self (the Divine) to be heard and experienced. Amidst the din of the busy mind, the Self gets lost, although it is never actually lost but ever-present and living your life. Our attention to the mind gives us the impression that the Self is something that has to be discovered, but the truth is more that it is uncovered in silence. It doesn’t need to be discovered because it is and always has been here. Finding the Self and aligning with it is more a matter of disregarding the mind, the creator of illusion. Doing this is easier once we have tasted the realness of the Self that exists in the silence of a quiet mind.

The egoic mind spins a story of reality that is often disconnected from the true reality of the moment, the reality in which the Self (who you really are) can be found. The ego (who you think you are) lives in another reality, a pseudo-reality; and it perpetuates this pseudo-reality through thoughts, which include beliefs, opinions, judgments, and stories about the experience of each moment. The mind makes up stories about whatever is happening in the moment and about what has happened and what will happen.

These stories cannot contain everything that is true about a moment. Rather, they are the spin the egoic mind puts on the moment, and therefore partial truths. These stories, or partial truths, take us away from the experience of the moment and cause us to live in a parallel, unreal world of thought. Meanwhile, life is happening and continuing to unfold moment by moment. Each moment is experienced only partially by the mind, which immediately forms an opinion and spins a story about the moment without touching into it fully. The mind doesn’t experience all that the moment contains because it immediately gets involved in its story about whatever is happening, which is usually a story of rejection of whatever is.

Because the mind is programmed to reject what is, it cannot truly experience the fullness of what is. If it stopped to experience everything about the moment, it would find it to be very full—full of joy, peace, contentment, wisdom, love, and acceptance. But the egoic mind doesn’t want these things. It wants drama because drama is what gives it reality. If the mind didn’t generate a story, which essentially amounts to generating a problem, it would have very little to do, nothing to solve. It creates a problem by rejecting the moment, and then it goes about trying to find a solution to that problem. It attempts to mobilize the body in behalf of the problem through fear and other feelings. If it succeeds, this becomes what your life is about. If you don’t follow the mind’s desires and suggestions for improving your life, your life would look very different. It would be much simpler and free of suffering. The mind causes us to struggle and work at life far more than we have to.

The Self lives in the quiet moment, which is so often bypassed by the mind. That is why meditation is so important to spiritual practice. How can you experience who you really are when you are believing and following the egoic mind’s ideas about life and who you are? We cannot serve two masters. We serve either the mind or the Self, and identification with each creates a very different reality—a very different life and a very different experience.

One of the simplest forms of meditation is listening. You don’t even have to sit still to practice listening. Except for when you are asleep, listening is always happening. You are either listening to the mind, which we call thinking, or you are listening to something else. Most of us spend most of our time listening to the mind. It can be difficult to ignore, especially if it is full of fear and negativity, which is one of the mind’s favorite techniques for getting us to pay attention to it. Fear and negativity get our attention because it feels like our survival is at stake if we don’t pay attention to these thoughts. With awareness of the mind and diligent questioning of its assumptions, it is not difficult to overcome the negativity of the mind.

When we are not listening to the mind, the opportunity exists to be aware that listening is still happening. Listening is part of Awareness, which is a name that is often given to our true nature. If you look closely at who you really are, you find only awareness—vast empty space that is aware, conscious. You are this consciousness, this awareness, of the mind, of feelings, of sounds, of sights, of sensations, of energy, of what is in any moment.

Listening aligns you immediately with this Awareness—the Self—because listening is an aspect of it. This Awareness is allowing by nature, and listening allows whatever is being heard. Listening puts you in a receptive state that allows whatever is. It doesn’t act on what is, it doesn’t have an opinion about what is, it just allows it to be the way it is. This kind of listening can be a very useful spiritual practice. It is the opposite of what the mind does with what is. The mind is constantly going to battle with what is—saying no to it and arguing with it, forming an opinion about it, and trying to change it.

Listening as a spiritual practice is much easier, more peaceful, and keeps you much less busy than listening to the mind. While listening to the mind is wearisome and following it is exhausting, listening as a spiritual practice is simple, joyous, and calming. This type of listening could become the way you are in the world in every moment. Listening is much more than a spiritual practice. It is a way of being and remaining aligned with the Self, and life can be lived very nicely from this vantage point.

We think we will not survive if we don’t listen to and follow the mind, but the Self has been living your life all along, with or without your awareness of that. How much simpler it is to align yourself with what is already living your life than with the mind, which is constantly worried, confused, afraid, and ill at ease with life. While the mind fusses and fumes at life, the Self allows whatever is.

Although we may not like what is, we can decide to allow it to be the way it is rather than fight it, as the mind does. When we do, we find that what is, is constantly changing into something else and that our ideas of like or dislike are irrelevant not only to us but to the Self, which embraces every moment for the joy of existence it affords. The Self says yes to every moment because it is creating each moment and wishes to experience it. This is the joy you can experience as well if you allow yourself to drop into the moment and just listen to what is. You are, after all, the Self that is creating all of it.

You will find that this listening is more like a full-body listening because it takes place not only through the ears but through your entire body, energy field, and beyond. Listening gets you in touch with the broader awareness that is paying attention to this moment. It aligns you with the Self, your true nature.

As you listen and allow yourself to be receptive to whatever is happening in this moment, you can feel the energy of the Self, which is fully at peace and content with this moment. This tangible energy of the Self is a sign that you are aligned with the Self. When this energy is absent, you are likely to be aligned, or identified, with something else—the mind. You can use this sensation of energy to check each moment to see whether you are identified with the mind or the Self. You listen to this energy, which is another way of saying you notice this energy.

The act of noticing, or listening, brings you into the moment—the now—and the act of allowing keeps you in the now. Once you notice what is by listening, in order to stay in the now, you must allow it. Once you land in the now, the mind tends to come in and reject something about it, which takes you back out of it. Allowing is the nature of your Self, so when you allow, you automatically align yourself with the Self. This doesn’t mean you will be passive in the world because the Self also takes whatever actions are necessary to move in the world as it sees fit.

Aligning with the Self through allowing and listening, although it may appear to be passive, puts you in a very alive place from which actions spontaneously arise. There is no shortage of actions arising from the now, from what is. Part of what is, is activity. The Self initiates activity when appropriate according to its drives. It takes care of itself—the Whole—by taking individual action in behalf of the Whole. So you don’t need to be concerned that you will do nothing if you don’t follow your thoughts. True greatness and goodness have always come from this quiet place, not from the mind. When you live from this place, you can live a much more fulfilled and productive life than when you are identified with the mind.

How do you begin to use listening as a spiritual practice? Just listen without thinking. You cannot listen and think at the same time, so if you catch yourself thinking, just bring yourself back to listening. Any judgments, opinions, stories, beliefs, labels, or concepts that arise while you are listening are the mind coming in. Note these and then return to listening. Just keep coming back to listening and see how this transforms your life. Do this as often as you can until you become established in listening as your natural state, and you will find yourself more and more aligned with the Self—with peace, contentment, joy, acceptance, and love.

Copyright © 2005 Gina Lake

This article is based on Radical Happiness: A Guide to Awakening. For more information, please visit



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