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Reflections on deep listening -

Reflections on deep listening

Deep listening, for me, is primarily about being there. If you’re not there, you can’t really listen. I think we all know what it’s like to not be listened to, to not be heard deeply. When somebody is only half-listening to us, something inside of us shrivels up and we no longer want to share our deepest truth because that person isn’t really there for us. And that makes me wonder if, maybe, the world is a little sad that we haven’t been listening. Maybe the birds are sad. Maybe the wind is sad that we haven’t listened to her. 

But it’s really interesting to just sit outside and see how much we can listen.

And then to notice how much mental commentary there is; how quickly our mind starts to chatter and comment on what we’re listening to, or to identify it: ‘Oh, that’s this type of bird.’ And then to let that go and come back to the sound. There isn’t really any way to do that than by also bringing our mind back to our body. And the best vehicle for that, I find, is the breath. 

Photo by Elena Gladd on Unsplash

Somehow, when I’m with my breath, my mind gets a little quieter and I find myself more present to an arising of sound that isn’t really outside of me, nor exactly inside of me.

There isn’t really any distinct me or any distinct sound; there is an arising of sound which I can be present with. Or not. And the more I let myself sink into the presence of that sound arising, the better I feel and the more deeply I start to hear. It’s not having thoughts about what I’m hearing, it’s just hearing it. And when I hear what’s arising in the present moment – without grasping at it, without wanting more of it, without pushing it away – there’s an ease. There’s an aimlessness. 

In that space, I also start to hear myself. I might hear a feeling that was in the background until that moment; now it has space.

I start to dissolve the boundary between me and the world; I start to reconnect. In that kind of listening, it’s clear that there is no hard boundary around me, isolating me, separating me, making me a separate, distinct entity. Instead, there’s just a wonderful mystery, which is also joyful, aware, and awake. 

There’s so much beauty in the present moment, in the arising of sound, that something in my heart can’t help but smile. Joy starts to well up in my chest. And at the same time, I can relax. It’s like a broken circuit reconnecting. Listening to the Earth, listening to myself, I start to feel, in an indirect way, that it’s clear, again, what I have to do and what I shouldn’t do. It’s nonconceptual, but it’s clear. A feeling arises of lightness, of rightness and ease. There’s a feeling of meaning, of significance in every bird’s song, in every sigh of the wind, in every beat of my heart. ☁️

And they all go together. They’re already together. They don’t have to be put back together or stitched together; somehow, in my consciousness, it’s already all one, one unbroken whole.

And I’m reentering the flow by learning to open my ears, and risk stopping my mental commentary. Instead, I’m following the leading edge of the present moment, like it’s a wave unfurling. I have to be right at the cusp; if I fall behind the leading edge, I get rolled around by my thoughts. I need to be right there on the edge of the sound as it unfolds in the present, in total mystery and wonder. 

Brother Phap Linh (Brother Spirit) is a Zen Buddhist monk, musician, and seeker. He began his monastic training with Thich Nhat Hạnh in Plum Village in 2008 and has since composed many of the community’s beloved chants. Before being ordained, he studied mathematics at Cambridge, England, and worked professionally as a composer. 

A co-founder of the Wake Up Movement for young people, today Brother Phap Linh is actively engaged in teaching applied mindfulness to climate activists, business leaders, artists, and scientists. As a leading voice in the new generation of Buddhist monastics in the West, he is passionate about exploring how meditators and scientists can help each other to go further down the path of understanding and discovery. 

☁️ Don’t miss the Deep Listening Party on April 22 ☁️

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