Alignment Adjustment 9: Listening and “Supreme Listening”
“Do you listen or do you wait to talk?”
-Ron Hutchcraft (somewhere around 1994)
“Christy, sometimes people just need to talk and want you to listen. They aren’t looking for advice.”
-My roommate Michelle (1999)
“…maybe I can stop interrupting others when they are speaking. Because no matter how creatively I try to look at my habit of interrupting, I can’t find another way to see it than this: “I believe that what I am saying is more important than what you are saying,” And I can’t find another way to see that than: “I believe that I am more important than you.” And that must end.”
-Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love
So, here are quotes on listening that I carry around with me. I remember them on a somewhat regular basis, because I am aware that I am a pretty crappy listener in everyday life. Often, while people are telling me about a life struggle or injuries they have, I am thinking of solutions to offer them. Part of this is my job as a yoga instructor and massage therapist, but it is also entirely possible that I have come into this kind of work because I have always been the sort of person who wants to help “fix” things. I really don’t like when people I care about are suffering. Aside from being completely arrogant and really annoying of me, it is also an impossible task, and I find myself feeling really frustrated and helpless when I can’t help (which I might add was not ever my job in the first place-read Michelle’s quote above).
While studying meditation and contemplative psychology at Naropa, we learned that injuries and hard times have a lesson imbedded within them. We talked about how it is important to sit with things and to learn the lessons so that, not only are you not spending your precious human life trying to avoid inevitable suffering, but also so that once you learn the lesson, it can stop coming up. I don’t know if that is exactly what they were trying to teach, but that is part of what I came away with (being the fix-it person that I am). This led to years of me “looking for the lesson” in everything hard. There is a huge value in learning from every day of human existence, but recently, talking with a dear friend (who also went to Naropa) and telling her how I didn’t want to avoid a particular painful situation in life by walking away because I was so sure that it was there to teach me something, she stopped me short. She said that sometimes the lesson is that something is not for you. She stated very (clearly and wisely) that there is no point in going through hard things for the sake of endurance.
This is a lesson in what I call the practice of “Supreme Listening,” when offering yoga and massage. There is something so sacred about the wisdom in the human body and in yoga practice. When I approach either of these, I do rely on my education and experience but mostly I practice “Supreme Listening.” Instead of taking what I know and approaching someone else’s body, experience, or a group yoga sequence, I listen and respond from what is in front of me. That way I am not superimposing some external idea on the present. Instead the present teaches me. This is a practice that I need to carry over into the rest of my life.
“Supreme Listening” can be done through all of the 5 senses, not just your ears. It’s the practice of learning to still your mind so you can use your eyes, ears, nose, sense of touch, and even your taste to “listen” to what is right here. Often, like I do when I am trying to “fix” things, we take what we know and drape it over the moment and instead of listening, we are waiting to talk like in the Hutchcraft quote above. This is the opposite of “Supreme Listening.”
I could, and am in the process of, writing more about this so you will see more of it in this blog, but what do you think? Have you experienced these things? Do you consider yourself a good listener and have you always been that way or have you put effort into it? Please comment in the box below!