How can we turn an average or awful day into a beautiful and meaningful day? Stop, silence the noise pollution inside your body-mind and listen. Growing up in a world where we are encouraged to suppress our spontaneous expressions, swallow our feelings or be silent for fear of punishment is a sure way to grossly inhibit our ability to listen and communicate. Without these essential skills we lose our ability connect and find meaning. Add to this the increased pace of life and survival pressures, with little time for rest, stillness and silence inside of our own minds, and we have a recipe for unconscious outbursts, misunderstandings and conflict.
More than ever we are unlearning the ways that we communicate. Our communication with each other is the foundation of our ability to connect and create a world community together. It is less about the words we use, the tone of our voice and the gentleness in our heart, although these are essential aspects, and more about getting comfortable with silence so that we may become better at listening. This is the practise of deep listening. And that is not to say that we should suppress our voices! It is to say that in order for us to speak our truth and for our words to be of valuable contribution to the whole we must first know how to truly listen. Our world community is developing a healthy relationship, a healthy relationship is based on reciprocity. Reciprocity requires being able to respond and being able to respond requires deep listening.
When we suffer we need to express our suffering in order to heal, and in order to heal we need to feel that we have been heard. Understanding the nature of someone’s suffering and allowing them the space to be heard requires deep listening. Deep listening means listening with compassion, with no other objective other than to lessen the suffering of the one who is speaking. It requires mindfulness and non-reactive neutrality, this takes practise. The simplest way to cultivate this mindful, neutral, non-reactive state is by being aware of our breath. We may not agree with what another is saying, we may even be emotionally triggered by their words. But if we truly care about cultivating a peaceful world community, which I think we do, then we must practise deep listening. At the core of it we are only required to practise one thing.
One purpose – our only purpose in that moment is to listen, to give the other person a chance to suffer less by being heard. In that moment, which may be an hour or may be 10 minutes, it is not about us, our thoughts, emotions or opinions. Even if we think the other person is wrong, in that moment we do not offer anything other than our compassionate deep listening. Because we are not perfect and have not been taught to listen in this way it is only natural that we will be triggered. When this happens all we need to do is become aware of our breath, while still listening we can deepen our breath and allow our triggered emotions to move through us without interrupting the other person in their flow of expression. This is our responsibility, deepening the breath is what gives us our response-ability.
If you feel like you have been the one listening and you, yourself have not been heard then it is your responsibility to embark on a journey of reclaiming your voice, your personal power and your truth. A healing journey that releases and expresses the parts of you that have been suppressed. Start by asking the following: Are you asking for what you need from your friends and loved ones? If not, why not? If so, why are you not getting the compassionate ear you need? Do you need to educate your friends and loved ones how best to listen to you? Or do they feel like what you have to say too much of a weight for them to carry? Do you not feel safe enough to express your truth? Do you need to seek professional counselling support in order to be truly heard? Your feelings, needs and values are your truth. It is your responsibility to speak up and speak your truth so that those in your life know who you really are and therefore know how to better care for you, love you and listen to you.
We are human animals and although we have developed highly articulate languages we are meant to express ourselves through raw sound without semantic meaning. A simple release of a sigh when we feel relaxed enhances our experience of relaxation. A grunt when we are doing a physically demanding task enhancing our ability to tap into a reservoir of strength. A groan when we feel pain enhances our innate pain relief, or a groan when we feel pleasure enhances our innate ecstasy. Allowing ourselves to make sound is how we can fully express ourselves in the moment without getting stuck on words or frozen in emotion.
I recommend the following yoga posture to anyone who feels frustrated with their inability to express themselves, it is called Simha mudra or Lions Roar. Simply seated on your shins, press your hands firmly onto the ground, lift your heart as you inhale deeply. As you exhale turn your eye gaze up toward your third eye, stretch your tongue out as far as you can opening the throat and let out your version of ‘hhhaaaaaahhh’. If you are worried about looking strange do it in the comfort of your own home and I assure you after a while of doing this practise you will stop caring about what other people may think. And that is the deep abiding joy of it.
This article is inspired by the Buddhist teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and Tara Brach, Non-Violent Communication and the Yogic principle of Satya.