The Art of Listening
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
There are essentially only two proactive postures for human beings to assume: exertion and listening.
Human exertion encompasses all manner of doing, working, accomplishing goals, expressing ourselves socially, and on a subtler level emoting and thinking. Doing, working, and socializing tend to be consciously instigated behaviors, while emoting and thinking often happen unconsciously, by rote. This distinction has caused many to believe that emoting and thinking are not exertions. But, in truth, most of the time they are.
In contrast to all this exertion, human beings also possess the capacity for listening. In fact, listening is our only real proactive alternative to exertion. When listening, we actually shift our posture—from one of expending and dispersing psychic energy to one of receiving and replenishing. It is no secret that in today’s fast-paced world we tend to assume the posture of exertion most of the time and only on rare occasions do we shift into listening. Thus the balance between these two energies has pretty much gone out the window, with the scale tipped overwhelmingly to the side of exertion. And the result of this imbalance is that we have become a people who are always psychically depleted and running on empty. We spend all day, every day pouring ourselves out without ever stopping to replenish the tank, and then we wonder why we are stressed, unhappy, irritable, weak, and sickly.
All of the spiritual masters of whom we have record stressed the importance of listening as a mode of psychic replenishment. But materialistic human culture, especially here in the western world, has countered this imperative by painting the picture that our happiness and well-being come to us primarily through getting and accomplishing—both of which require inordinate amounts of exertion. Thus here in the west the art of listening has not only been neglected; it has been largely lost.
As the new spiritual consciousness emerges, however, more and more individuals are gaining insight into the blighted condition of our materialistic world culture and in their search for deeper meaning and harmony in their lives, are discovering the lost art of listening. Then through the practice of meditation, in which a segment of each day is set aside specifically for listening, these are experiencing the wonder of integral healing that can come from restoring this crucial balance of energies.
Some may wonder: what is the connection between meditation and listening? Isn’t listening something we do with other people, as they speak to us? Yes, that is a kind of listening, to be sure, but the restorative benefits of listening are not generally unleashed by listening to others as they speak. Rather these come from listening to our own higher Self—a created wellspring of our human makeup that we all have within us. The Bible calls this function the “still small voice” and equates it to divine propensities. In other words, the fact that we all have this still small voice within us and can access it freely through the posture of listening means that we all have the potential to become vehicles for the divine will and life.
This is what Jesus meant when he said that the kingdom of God is within us. When we turn inward with a listening ear, we receive divine life from the creative source. And this life restores and rejuvenates our psychic energies. It is not to be found “out there” somewhere, but rather inside of us. Listening is called for because this inner voice is anything but loud and ostentatious. It truly is small and still. It can also seem mysterious to us in the sense that it is not generally audible to our human sense of hearing. But through the practice of meditation we fine-tune our ability to listen and become increasingly adept at comprehending this new kind of inaudible speech. In this way we come to understand that listening is more than just a posture; it is an art form.
Another thing that makes this kind of inner listening an art form is that the speech of the divine impulse may very well be without words. It may come through the subtler medium of thought or feeling impressions. As a medium of communication words are, of course, invaluable, and we have all become extremely comfortable with this medium, no matter what language we speak. This is because our cognitive minds have been trained to associate words with feelings and images, thereby creating a veritable feast of stimulation in our minds. This can be true of both the spoken and written word, which is one of the chief joys of reading. The problem is that though intellectual stimulation has become one of the underpinnings of modern western culture, it does not necessarily translate into restorative energy. On the contrary, words tend to affect our minds a little like a sugar rush affects our bodies. They bring us a fleeting sense of euphoria, only to then leave us feeling flat and emptier than ever. But the art of listening, once mastered, invariably fills us and recharges our batteries.
What then are the actual mechanics behind this special kind of listening? And how do we know when we have received an impartation from the divine source?
As is commonly known, meditation involves the practice of stilling and quieting ourselves inwardly. What is not widely understood is the connection between stillness and the posture of listening. In fact, once we attain stillness we can be almost certain that we have ceased from our exertions and clicked into a listening mode. Getting still causes us to open our listening ear, while consciously listening increases our sense of stillness.
Stillness does not happen automatically. Even seasoned meditaters would readily admit that achieving inward stillness can at times be an elusive pursuit. Often times people think that just finding a quiet space, sitting comfortably, and slowing our breathing is tantamount to achieving stillness. But while these formulated preparations for meditation are certainly important, once established they can actually heighten our awareness of just how noisome and discordant our inner world is. It is then that the work of attaining stillness must begin. And on any given day this work may require time, persistence, and determination. It can always be done, but sometimes we may not feel up to the task.
Modern life is not conducive to the pursuit of inner stillness. Our lives are not only busy and given over to exertion; they have also been highly conditioned and tend toward unconsciousness. Many of our thoughts and emotions are reactionary on account of our conditioned responses. It does not take much in the way of circumstantial upheaval to trigger these conditioned responses. And rarely are unconscious thoughts and emotions given to stillness and equanimity. Rather they tend to be disturbing and unsettling at best. So it is that much of the time our inner world is inundated with subtle wavelengths of discord and disharmony. That is why the simple act of shining the light of conscious awareness in on our inner world can be so powerful. For, it has the palpable effect of not only exposing unconscious thought and emotion, but also disarming the triggers that have been causing them. The more that we are able to do this, the less often our psyche will be given over to wavelengths of disturbance and discord. And this will, in turn, make the attaining of stillness less daunting.
But even if effort and persistence are sometimes called for, pressing through will most certainly be worth it. For, with the attaining of stillness comes the listening posture, and with the listening posture comes the divine impartation. And there can be no greater benefit for us than this.
Listening for and receiving the divine impartation may not solve every problem that besets us, at least not immediately. God is not a genie that grants us our every human wish and desire. But listening for and receiving the divine impartation on a regular basis will do this: it will reverse the draining off of our vital psychic energies, so that instead of always running on empty we will be gradually filled on the inside and energized in a way we have never been before. And be assured, this new influx of life and energy carries its own rewards. Encouragement and enthusiasm soon come to dominate our normal waking outlook. And perhaps most rewarding, we begin to live an inspired life.
What is inspiration? The word literally means to be influenced, filled, or moved by divine supernatural energies. Biologically, inspiration relates to our breathing function, and we all know that without breathing we would soon have no life at all. And yet astoundingly, many people are totally unfamiliar with what it feels like to be inspired. But once we master the art of listening and are receiving divine impartations on a regular basis, inspiration can become a common experience for us, thereby infusing even the mundane aspects of our life situation with a new sense of purpose and vitality.
Only through becoming still and assuming the posture of listening can we receive the divine impartation, and only through receiving the divine impartation do we become truly inspired. The exertions that we work so hard at cannot do this, no matter how successful they are. Quantity is never as rewarding as quality. One impartation from the divine Mind is worth a month of exertions. And a day filled with inspiration will make us feel happier than a week spent accumulating and accomplishing. We may exert ourselves non-stop, but in the end all we will have is a depleted psyche.
True listening is an art, and like any art it takes time and practice to become a master at it. Structured times of meditation are invaluable because they set the table for the feast of divine impartation. They get us off of the treadmill of exertion and allow us to assume the posture of listening that replenishes our psychic energies.
Though constant exertion may appear both necessary and sensible to those trying to make headway in this life, we must not lose sight of the fact that true life emanates from one source only—that being the divine impulse radiating at the core of our inner being. Without maintaining a vital connection to this source, all of our doing will ultimately be in vain.