The Art of Listening

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2 The Art of Listening

I have observed lately that most people really don't know how to listen. Which is to say that they do not know how to learn or bring new transformative insight into their experience of being through listening, which is truly hearing. Most people, it seems, don't make a distinction between listening conceptually and listening experientially. Some people think that, because words are symbols, listening is restricted to concept.

Much of the time people only listen for information, or answers, or merely to contrast what's being heard with what is believed by them. Judgment, belief, disbelief, thinking, figuring and the like are conceptual responses to the stimulus of words. When someone speaks, do you think something and assume through this that you know what they are saying? From this, do you quickly classify and box what they mean, and begin to make instant decisions about that? What I'm speaking about now most people do so habitually and rapidly that they don't know what I'm saying. They assume I'm talking about a procedure other than the one that's going on for them this very instant. That you would turn your attention to what is so for you right now with openness to something new being the case, is the first step towards a shift in your listening.

When your listening is founded in a true base of not-knowing, then you have a chance at hearing experientially. One danger that is always present is assuming that you know what is being said. If an experience is being called for in the speaking, and you do not have an experiential shift in your relationship to reality, chances are that you indeed do not know (we could say experience or hear) what is being said.

Most people think that because they understand the language and have an idea that is related to what is heard, that they "know" it already. They may even recognize conceptually what is spoken and remember having had an experience which matches this way of speaking, but this is not hearing what is said.

It is difficult for most of us to come to grips with the fact that no matter how accurate our memory or understanding is, it is not the experience that's being spoken. Getting what is said as an experience is completely different from having a memory or from merely understanding the meaning of the words. What's being said may be identical before and after such a shift, but you will indeed be listening to something else. And it will make a difference.

You must question the purpose behind your listening. What are you listening for or listening to hear? Are you listening for the experience that's there? In order to experience the presence of something you must create the experience - someone else's experience, not yours. This can only be done by listening to the experience of what's being communicated, which is what is truly there for the speaker.

Of course this means that the two of you must create the very same experience. This may seem impossible and, in a conceptually objectified linear reality, it is. Yet working both within and beyond this limitation, you can learn to hear in such a way that you experience the experience of another. This is the art of listening. The key to this irrational but radically simple act is not knowing. While contemplating a profound communication, allow yourself to be bodily and mentally transformed in the very moment of listening. Be open to experiencing a shift in reality in the very process of listening. This is called HEARING and is the result of experiential listening.

Peter Ralston

February, 1986

Good Stuff! coolyes


  1. listening
  2. cheng hsin
  3. fair witness


Mark de LA says
I think this might be a Zen requirement of the fair witness guild for the [project: group UnhackTheBrain]

Mark de LA says
mr 2013-12-05 10:19:26 2379
Some of this we practiced in the "I am experiencing you experiencing me experiencing you ... etc. " game .

Some of this stuff is also covered in different words in Chapter 19 0f BofNK.

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