Listening into the future


“Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes on the people around us.”
Rachel Naomi Remen, American author, teacher and ‘Integrative medicine’ pioneer.

How many of us really give a thought to how we listen? Listening, for most of us, is something taken for granted. Just as seeing or breathing. But what if I were to tell you that there exists a special kind of listening that can create a new future, both for the speaker and the listener?

Consider the following.

You: “Are you planning to see a movie this weekend? I am looking for someone to go with”
Me : “Can’t say for sure. Maybe, maybe not.”
You: “Hmm! Okay, will you let me know once you make up your mind.”
Me : “ Sure, shall do.”

What would you say about the above conversation? Seems to be pretty straight forward and ordinary does it not. But if you look at it again, you would notice two aspects. First, the exchange has been about my hearing the words and then responding based on my interpretation of the same. Second, how the interpretation impacts what exists as concerns for me, allows me to agree or disagree.

Now, let’s consider another exchange.

You: “I do not agree with your handling of the situation. I feel that might create a bigger problem.”
Me: “I have tried to do the best I can. I believe what I did was the best under the circumstances.”
You: “Well, what you failed to do was consider other options which would have been better.”

Do you notice that in this hearing I have interpreted your words as judging me and have immediately reacted by justifying myself and my actions?

Like the other senses, hearing remains a meaning making activity. Essential to interpret what is happening out there and how it might conceivably impact us. Hearing remains essential to survive. We thus become adept and skilled in hearing and do it all the time. Hearing though is not listening.

So what is listening? It is an art and may not come easily to most of us. It is really about when we listen, we do so without interpretation, without judging it against what we know, what we believe, what we assume. If this leaves you wondering whether you have ever listened at all to anything, welcome to the gang! For this remains true for all of us.

listening image

So what is it that stops us from listening? As I dwell with this question, I come to a surprising realisation. Which is that I do not want to listen since I find it dangerous. I remain afraid that listening might force me to let go of my beliefs and biases, shatter some of the perspectives I hold dear, that I am accustomed to. So how do we remove this fear and apprehension that our listening might endanger our beliefs, shatter our long-held perspectives?

Well, we can make a start by practicing to ‘listen authentically’. We do this by being alert to any inauthenticity that we find creeping in. For example, while listening I might notice a need for me to look good or needing to be liked. Or an evaluation or judgment swirling in my mind about what the other person is saying. Noticing this in itself brings up that self awareness that I have listened inauthentically. It then allows me the opportunity and access to train myself to listen without that inauthenticity.

You might wonder, ‘But is it not critical for us to bring judgment and perceptions from past situations to be able to make meaning of what is being said? Why should we dispense all that just to listen authentically? And what is the advantage we would gain by doing that?’

So we get back to understanding the nuts and bolts of ‘listening authentically’. What we saw above was what we need to do at our (listener) end in terms of being non-judgmental and being alert to our inauthenticities creeping in. Now let us understand how ‘listening authentically’ manifests for the guy who is speaking. Well what it does is let the speaker say everything he has to say until he has nothing else to say about what he was saying.

And this is when the magic happens!

The speaker has the experience that he has actually been gotten. He and we may not realise it but our ‘listening’ has supported him to table all his concerns, his fears and allowed him to put all that behind him. The concerns, the fears from the past that had put him “on the rails” towards a future which was cluttered with and an extension of his own past. With the past clutter gone, a blank space has been created. A space waiting for a new future to be born. A future that was not going to happen otherwise.

The listener at the other end, shorn that he has chosen to be, of all judgments and interpretations, also finds himself no longer “on the rails” and no longer being held hostage by his own beliefs, biases, prejudices and taken-for-granted assumptions. Old resistances and blocks go and he too becomes part of the blank space. A space now open for new possibilities, new conversation and a new future.

Dear Reader, do you see how simply listening authentically transports both the speaker and the listener into a new space? A space which holds the key to releasing both sides from the bondages of the past? A space which allows both sides to write a new future? A future created which was not going to happen anyway?

Created future

Dear Reader, are you willing to make that commitment to listening to have the magic happen for you?

***
Ester asked why people are sad.

“That’s simple,” says the old man. “They are the prisoners of their personal history. Everyone believes that the main aim in life is to follow a plan. They never ask if that plan is theirs or if it was created by another person. They accumulate experiences, memories, things, other people’s ideas, and it is more than they can possibly cope with. And that is why they forget their dreams.”
-Paulo Coelho in ‘The Zahir’, 2006

In learning……. Shakti Ghosal

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31 thoughts on “Listening into the future

  1. Excellent thoughts dear Shakti and loved reading through the comments..
    Listening is an art that many have lost.. distracted by too many other things around them, many only hear half of what is said..

    Working as I did within my job as Support Worker, it was imperative we Listened. Not only to what was being said but we were trained to listen to what wasn’t being said..
    It’s also very easy for others to jump to conclusions to your responses with the Tone used to speak. .. Its often a natural reaction to be on the ‘defensive’ so when you do not make yourself heard clearly,and others do not Listen then misinterpretation’s occur all the more.. ..

    You also touched within one of your comment boxes about Reality .. Agreed, Perception plays an important role within all our interactions and interpretations . We have lost many such skills within our senses due to the distractions we toy with.. But maybe that is for another post.. 🙂

    Blessings Sue x

  2. As it is said, these days, we listen not to realize but to argue. And, it is true if we look into the social media. Listening on its part creates a better understanding and I think, if we fail to listen to other’s words, to understand and empathize with them, we shall never be able to listen to our inner voice.
    Great article, really enjoyed it… 🙂

    • Hi Maniparna,

      Great thought!

      So what is that intrinsic need within us that makes us argue? If we think of this, we would realise that this reactive manifestation arises from the need to protect our ‘outwardly projected’ self. That self which we believes shows us in the best possible light. But that self is not our authentic self and so we expend vast amounts of our energy trying to protect and maintain this facade. This energy shows up in our reactions to justify ourself,the positions we hold as also closing our minds to other possibilities, thereby effecting our listening..

      This was the essence of my post.

      Thank you for taking the time to visit and share.

      Shakti

  3. Shakti …

    Long before I became a reporter, I realized I had a skill that was a blessing and, perhaps, a curse. The skill was ‘listening.’ When someone realized that I really listened to what they had to say, they shared their personal stories. Some were troubling, disturbing. The blessing, on the other hand, was that I knew I had people’s trust and I valued their confidence in me.

    Listening seems to be a lost skill for some of the things you mentioned. I’ve seen couples dining out and ignoring one another while each is texting or on some social media site. That’s very sad and a lost opportunity to get to know the person right in front of them.

    An interesting meme I’ve seen is that “the same six letters that spell “listen” also spell “silent.” Some people are only waiting for the other person to stop talking so they can talk about themselves. When that happens, no “listening” is really involved.

    Thank you, as always, for a very thoughtful post.

    Judy

    • Hello Judy,

      Great to see you back with this nice comment.

      I love that link you have brought in between ‘listen’ and ‘silent’. Yes. silence is a pre-requisite to listening. But this silence pertains to those circling, judging, self-centered thoughts that we have inside our heads. It is only when we learn how to silence all that are we able to take our first steps into the realms of authentic listening and create magic.

      So what would you say is the reason behind listening becoming a lost skill? Is it because societal pressures have made us more self- centered? Or is it because we are already faced with a listening overload, and thereby fatigue, thanks to the 24 X 7 exposure to the media and the net? So what could we do to regain that lost skill of ‘listening’?

      Shakti

      • Listening overload might be one reason. But I observed this years before social media consumed us. I can’t say what drives it. I know I was brought up to be polite. With that, you have to tune out the distractions and really listen to what others have to say. That’s what I think we need to do to regain the lost ‘listening’ skill. 😉

      • Judy,

        You are right. Today’s lifestyle and work pressures do detract from listening. And yes, we need to regain that lost skill. We need to hold the awareness and discipline to do that.

        Regards

        Shakti

  4. Once you enter the domain of cognitive senses, the magic of “Reality” takes over. Perhaps one of the most researched “sense” is that of plain “sight”. At least for humans. It has been recorded that the observations through our eyes is at best 25% of the image (formed on the retina) and the rest is constructed by our brain.

    Something similar happens with our other sense organ, namely the ear. Studies on subjects such as the “Cocktail Party Syndrome” have indicated the human brain’s inability to understand sounds (in certain extreme cases) and a significant impairment in cognitive functioning in most cases depending on circumstances.

    However, the Cocktail Party Effect is the reverse of its namesake syndrome, where filtering out ambient noise for focused auditory attention is the key to listen in to sound originating from unattended stimuli. Mathematically, the Fast Fourier Transforms (FFT) can logically explain this Effect as then you have to leave the time domain and venture in to the frequency domain; solve your problem and revert back to the time domain. And who knows FFT better than our own redoubtable Shri BCB (ex-DRM/RDSO)?

    Having said that, methinks hearing is wholly auditory, listening adds the tricks that the brain plays with the auditory sounds and then the interpretation of it all falls squarely on our perception (cognitive skill) of the sound itself along with our emotional tags. Thus tone and tenor plays an important part in speech while communicating to a passive “listener”.

    In the end, a good communicator holds sway over his audience and the bad communicator is not heard at all. Thus “listening” can not only be attributed to the recipient of the auditory notes; in fact the speaker is as responsible (if not more) in aiding “listening”.

    Just as readers sometimes can see behind the writer’s mask, writers too can see behind his reader’s mask if the light is just so. And dreams apart, dear Sir, that is the magic of “Reality”.

    Regards, Saibal Bose

    (From the Lounge Session forum)

    • Dear Saibal,

      That’s a great input though you have taken on a larger canvas beyond the aspect of authentic listening.

      As you have rightly pointed out, what we see (and hear) is really a small fraction of our “reality”. A major part gets contributed by pre-constructed models already existing in our brains based on our process of socialisation, specific experiences we have had and in general our network of unexamined ideas, beliefs, biases, prejudices, social and cultural embedded-ness, and taken-for-granted assumptions through which we interpret and interact with the world, other people, and even with our own selves.

      With so many variables at play, it stands to reason that as we look at a situation, each individual’s reality would be different. So when you write, and I quote, “listening adds the tricks that the brain plays with the auditory sounds and then the interpretation of it all falls squarely on our perception (cognitive skill) of the sound itself along with our emotional tags”, what you are essentially saying is that as I hear, what lands for me is to a large part dependent on the meaning making ‘brain model’ I referred to above.

      The other important aspect which influences the eventual “Reality” we hold about a situation is the context we have for it. While a context can exert enormous influence on our perception and behavior, for the most part we function without being aware of or even noticing what that context is. A context functions as a cognitive lens (a powerful filter) through which we see life (the world, others, and ourselves). In any situation, one’s context for that situation 1) determines the meaning of certain aspects of what we are dealing with, 2) highlights some aspects, and 3) dims or even blanks out yet other aspects. As such, a context has the power to shape and color the “reality” of what we are dealing with, or in other words its occurrence for us. As a result, because our way of being and acting is always consistent with the way what we are dealing with occurs for us, a context has a powerful impact on our “reality” and the consequent way of being and actions.

      So what we are speaking of are two aspects really. First, the quality and completeness of the sound itself as can be determined by scientific methods. And second the impact of the sound within the brain and how that initiates our being and action based on the various filters (or their absence) and the meaning making machinery within the brain.

      This is a great discussion and with your permission I would like to take this to my blog site for the benefit of more eyeballs.

      Cheers

      Shakti Ghosal ‘74

      • Dear Shri Ghosal,

        I think you are in receipt of my consent to share the post.

        To add to what you have mentioned below, I need to propose a “chicken or egg” question.

        What came first, the brain or the sense organs?
        The answer is “a yes & a no”.

        Some of the senses, such as “touch” — tactile perceptions probably existed before “the brain” was given to living things. This can be understood by thinking of Mimosa Pudica, the touch-me-not plant that has no brain. However, related effects like “pain” (one of the aspects of emotion) would have come after living things had the benefit of a brain.

        Senses like olfactory, gustatory, visual or auditory could be the by-products of the brain OR the brain trying to accessorise and extend itself to the physical world.

        Indeed the brain was formed as a defensive organ to help in survival of the individual and the species as a whole; when the knowledge contained in the tissues & cells were not adequate. It definitely helped in proprioception since the early rudimentary brain’s functions indicate.

        But the brain is different from the individual of a species. It is ambitious. It changes to grow, though that may create huge redundancy (a good guess is that the humans toady use only 10% of the cerebral matter). The species differ as it requires a defining mutation (change in DNA sequence away from the normal and unlike polymorphism) to change. These are records of mtDNA Haplogroup mutations. Here is another question. Does the brain grow to maintain a redundancy to use ratio? Apparently not, as Cetaceans use as much as 20% though Encephalization quotient based out of intelligence is rather skewed as the bigger size really doesn’t make them more intelligent but help in accessorise better by adding a few extra sense organs (like sonar or electrical pulse detectors). After all, as mentioned earlier, the brain is merely an organ meant for defence and thus getting a better survival chance.

        When did the brains’ pleasure centre take over the interpretations from the basic survival instincts for humans? It really doesn’t matter. But it did never-the-less.

        We now enjoy many things, things that are no longer related to our survival. This function requires the filters that you bespoke of. And the meanings, thereof.
        Regards,

        Saibal Bose
        ( Lounge Session group)

  5. Thank you Sir for the wonderful insight into Listening.
    This inauthenticity and reactionary response through all our senses including listening seems to be the basics of the Buddhist teachings propagated by late SN Goenka of Vipasana fame.
    In his Art of Living, he mentions that getting Authentic brings soul to stop wandering from past to future and slowly stabilising to the Tranquil and Real state of Self in the very present.
    We take many births to advance to this state of Nirvana.
    Such a soul is unbiased and authentic in all his response.

    We all try to incrementally advance from whatever stage we are in at present.

    Thanks again.

    Raj k Mangla
    DRM/ KGP
    9002081000

    ( From the “Lounge Session ” forum)

    • Hi Raj,

      At the outset, my apologies for responding late to you.

      Indeed our authenticates which make us show up differently to different people and under different situations do remain an important block to authentic listening as they bring in pre-conceived interpretations and judgments. I call this our “Already- Always listening”. Awhile back, I had dwelled on this aspect in an earlier post and I provide the link here, should you be interested.

      https://esgeemusings.com/2014/11/01/my-already-always-listening/

      The practices of Vipasana and Art of Living work on controlling the mind-monkey and bringing it into the present. To that extent, such practices would allow for removing of some thought-clutter and contribute towards more focussed listening. And surely would support authentic listening.

      Regards

      Shakti Ghosal ’74

  6. Hi Shakti,

    Human nature is such that the moment we start hearing, we start judging and interpreting the intention and purpose of the conversation. You are right, we never listen, we only hear and that too what we want to hear and react accordingly.

    The art of listening can be cultivated if we decide to abdicate hypocrisy, which has crept into our lives and relationships unawares. We don’t even realize how much of our life is sheer pretense, with masks we wear for various occasions!
    Thanks for a wonderful post, which evokes introspection and self-analysis.

    • Hi Balroop,

      You are right. The judging and interpreting of what we are hearing is a part of our deep down survival instinct. In that sense it is instinctive and very difficult to get away from.

      And yes, the art of authentic listening is something we can cultivate through holding the awareness and practicing.

      Thank you for your kind visit and acknowledgement. I appreciate.

      Shakti

  7. Perhaps we could make a beginning by listening to ourselves first – to the tiny inner voices that often tell us things we don’t wish to hear….

    • Dada,

      Indeed what you say is so true. That inner voice is the authentic self. That self which over the years, has got subsumed by our inauthenticities and the need to show up with that mask of ours which we perceive as best suited for the other person or situation.But there are times when it does shine through.It is also this authentic self which allows us to be a person of integrity.

      Thank you for bringing this wonderful perspective here. I truly appreciate.

      Shakti

  8. This is a lovely post. Until I had the experience of someone truly listening to me, giving me the time I needed to unpack my thoughts into strings of words, I always felt nervous and try to wrap those thoughts up far too quickly. Too often, this resulted in misperceptions which had no basis it all in my intentions. As I began to be allowed to express things in my own time, I was able to observe myself doing the same thing: rushing to summarize the other’s thoughts before they were able to completely clarify them. Now I feel so much more relaxed in my communications with others. Aloha and blessings, Shakti.

    • Dear Bela,

      You obviously have mastered the art of authentic listening and I would acknowledge you for that. You have also mentioned about the change that this has brought in you viz. being more relaxed in your communications.Which in itself is great. But I would say this is merely the means to achieve a greater end. Which I would say is becoming more effective and persuasive in your interactions. Can you say that this has also happened for you?

      As always, you always bring such wonderfully personal perspectives into this space that the discussion gets elevated. Thank you for that!

      Blessings to you too!

      Shakti

      • Shakti first, you are welcome, and thank you for your affirming feedback. As to my interactions being more effective, I would say that is true. As for persuasive, I am not attempting to persuade others to join in my version of things; rather, it’s an attempt to be as clear as possible to avoid others misunderstanding my intentions in communication. Aloha, dear one!

  9. Greetings Shakti…Seems to me we fear listening mostly because we are unable to let go and accept whatever will be to be. We must hold on to what we know because we fear the unknown that change brings, even change to our beliefs. Ego is another reason we don’t listen well for often times ego does not want us to hear anything but what it has to dictate. Fear,fear,fear…We sadly are drowning in fear which comes about from a lack of trust and belief in ourselves. If we change our beliefs can we trust that we will be okay? Trust must include change and our ability to flow along with it, not needing to anchor ourselves to any one belief for safety, but rather trusting and knowing all will be well no matter what…Not easy to accomplish and I would imagine this act of listening incorrectly is a huge part of why the world is falling apart…Time to clean our ears as well as our souls and bypass ego 🙂 Blessings my friend…VK

    • Dear VK,

      My apologies for being a trifle late in responding.

      In your comment you have brought out the whole gamut of blocks which prevent us from listening authentically. Yes, it is that conditioning within us which needs to hold onto our acquired beliefs, prejudices and the various social and cultural embeddedness.And yes, it that fear of what we hold within being contested and proved wrong, that stops us from listening freely and without judgment.

      Indeed, out ego does play a part. But what is our ego really other than not allowing our intrinsic beliefs and prejudices, our social and cultural embeddedness from being proved wrong?

      Great thoughts and discussion here VK. Thank you for playing your part as always.

      Shakti

  10. Listening authentically. Agree with you that it’s about listening to both sides of the argument. Or at least accommodating and respect other viewpoints. It might be tempting to interrupt the speaker at times, but then again, it can be hard to predict where the conversation or speech will go. And something he or she says may surprise you in the end.

    • Hi Mabel,

      Yes, listening authentically is about listening non-judgmentally to all sides of the argument. The important component here is being non- judgmental. Easier said than done of course!

      That what the speaker might say could surprise us in the end, is a great perspective to hold. This perspective would lead us to have a curious and open mindset as opposed to a preconceived and closed one.

      Thanks for taking the time to come in with the lovely comment.

      Shakti

  11. I echo what Raj says, and might add that impatience seems to be a key factor in our failing to listen attentively. One may observe it in others who are chatting, seeing in their body language that rather than listening considerately, passively, they are instead formulating their own ideas and merely paying lip service to the other, if at all, when responding. It can be almost as if a game, one of who can create the greater emotional response, and in the process true listening is subordinated to more self-centred objectives. It really is quite commonplace, perhaps you might agree Shakti?

    • Dear Hariod.

      Great thought.

      Have you wondered the genesis of that impatience that arises in us? I have seen this in myself as arising from the need to put forth my point of view.A belief that the acceptance of the other guy’s ideas would make me show up poorly.Yet another aspect of trying to protect myself.

      So what stops us from shifting out of impatience? That is because we start believing that impatience and other such qualities are who we are rather than who we have wound up becoming. Holding the latter awareness can go a long way in our ability to have different responses to a situation.

      With blessings

      Shakti

      • I think perhaps the genesis of impatience can differ dependent upon the character Shakti. For many it is the insecurity of needing to assert themselves, for others it is the insatiable desire for intellectual superiority, and for others still it is more of a conditioned trait towards an over-weaning self-reliance. I also believe there may be genetic factors at play, and have seen what appears to be evidence for this.

        I have noticed that most who suffer from impatience believe it to be a perfectly rational response to many situations; that is, if they are aware of it within themselves at all. These types often suffer from boredom quite frequently too, and consider time to be wasted unless engaged in some intellectual or physical stimulus. Self-awareness is the cure, and not being enslaved to the mind.

        Enjoying the discussion Shakti, many thanks,

        Hariod.

  12. Analytical and thought-provoking discourse on speaking and listening. There are two things in play in the process, the ego of both parties and their mental baggage vying for ascendancy, showing up in interjections and protestations while speaking is in progress. Maturity requires that the listener, at least, accords the speaker the comfort of total, interruption-free listening, as a starting point. Intaking the speaker’s content fully without prejudice may well follow as a matter of course, resulting in a convergence of minds at the creatively open mental space, as a result of consistent effort. I have seen it playing out during high level discussions, where knowledgable gents are seen to be active listeners in session, chiming in only after the speaker has completed. What is required is to make a habit of it during exchanges at all levels. It is bound to create greater harmony, and, where agreement may not be possible, allowing for informed disagreement in a climate of acceptance and goodwill, encouraging both parties to subsequently review options and explore newer horizons…best wishes.. Raj.

    • Dear Raj,

      Thank you for bringing in this perspective.

      Yes, indeed it is the mental baggage of both the speaker and the listener, vying against each other for ascendancy, is what detracts from listening authentically. I would venture to add that the aspect of ‘Ego’ which you have mentioned also forms part of this baggage.

      You have spoken about maturity and its need to be present with the listener. I however tend to look at this aspect differently. I see the issue really more about the way we are hard-wired to protect the ‘Me-Self’ entity.So it is always about this ‘Me- Self’ which is at the centre of our universe and everyone and everything else is “Out-there”. Anything that we perceive as dangerous “out-there” needs to be protected against. I have accordingly mentioned this in my post.

      I believe our quality of authentic listening can be improved by our practicing to shift ourselves from the default ‘In-here’ mindset to one of “out-here” mindset. My personal experience of this has been one of immediate replacing of the circling reactive thoughts in the mind by an enhanced consciousness and possibilities relating to what is there “out-here”.

      I appreciate your presence here.

      Shakti

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