Yesterday afternoon, a garbage truck was compacting a load of trash; a large dog was barking; some squirrels were scolding a stray cat; a neighbor continually revved the engine of his Ford Mustang; a robin was chirping; and an ambulance siren wailed and blasted its deep-throated horn.
All of this happened within the span of five-minutes or so during my walk to unwind and enjoy nature. I’m sure there were other sounds, but they were drowned out by those on the above list. During my solitary walks, I make special efforts to observe and listen to things. In my opinion, observing and listening provides a lot of value to life. For example, taking those few minutes from yesterday afternoon, a lot of individual beings were active. At least two people were collecting garbage; the dog seemed troubled about something; a cat’s presence had alarmed a few tree squirrels; my neighbor was presumably relishing the exhaust tone of his expensive car; a robin was going about the business of being a bird; and the occupants of the ambulance were rushing to the scene of a dire emergency situation of some sort.
As I analyzed these sounds, I again realized that there are a lot of things happening during an average afternoon in my “quiet”, unpretentious neighborhood. A great many lives were being lived. Some moments were mundane, a few were spectacular to those involved. Our surroundings are fascinating when we take the time to actually listen.
A moment ago, the bamboo wind-chimes near the front door began clacking. This means that the north breeze has increased in speed. The rhythmic nature of the clack-clack is soothing. If its tempo increases, I might feel alarmed that a swift weather change could be happening. However, for now, the wind-chimes are providing a pleasant ambient background while I tap out this paragraph.
“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”–author, commentator, occasional actor, Fran Lebowitz
While engaged in conversation with others, how often do we actually listen? It’s easy to hear another person talk to us as we patiently or perhaps impatiently wait for our turn to say something. It’s quite common that people talk past one another. We superficially listen because we’re distracted by our own mental chatter. One of my distant cousins, by marriage, habitually converses this way. She often asks about certain aspects of my life. As I utter a couple of sentences, she interrupts to say something utterly off topic as if she hasn’t heard a single word I said. This happens nearly every day. This is so disheartening.
“I’m always relieved when someone is delivering a eulogy and I realize I’m listening to it.”–George Carlin
When we pause our urge to respond and talk, we are free to pay attention to the information the other person has to share with us. We already know what we want to say, but we probably don’t know what the other person has on her or his mind. When we set aside the habit to fill in conversation gaps, we might learn something important about someone else. Sometimes the other person desperately needs to know that someone else actually listens to her. Basically, someone who constantly talks or interrupts others, loses depth in life because she fails to listen. The person who authentically listens, improves the quality of communication for both individuals.
When we listen to another person or to our surroundings, we hear through the filter of our desires and beliefs. Likewise, if we are listening to our own thoughts, we are also listening through that same filter of our own desires and beliefs. Through practice a person can learn to listen without filtering through one’s own desires and preconceived beliefs.
In its most simple terms, listening is an active practice. It’s all about focusing on the moment, paying close attention.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this saying from Shakyamuni Buddha.”When one has the feeling of dislike for evil, when one feels tranquil, one finds pleasure in listening to good teachings; when one has these feelings and appreciates them, one is free of fear.”