Friday, January 30, 2015

Deep Listening

"Rain in the Mountains"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House"

I woke up this morning to a sound that I rarely hear out here in the desert. A light rain was falling and I was hearing the sound of raindrops on my window.  As I sat there in the utter silence, listening to the gentle rain, I reflected on the importance of "listening" - a prized virtue on any spiritual path.

Buddhists don't talk so much about the value of listening,  but rather the importance of "deep listening" on a path of enlightenment. 

It seems to me that in the popular culture of today's busy world, most people are so preoccupied with their own thoughts that they hardly do any listening at all - let alone "deep listening." So many people are always so busy, emails and iPhones, pecking away at a computer - everyone so involved in their own thinking. People often "hear" but hardly ever take the time to actually "listen" to a world outside of themselves.  Even in quiet times, when sitting alone, people often find themselves engaged with their own thoughts-focusing on their worries and regrets or planning for the days to come. 

"Deep listening" begins with "clearing one's mind" so that you can actually listen to sounds other than your own ideas,  and then actively listening for those sounds available in the present moment. 

It seems to me that "deep listening" is best done in silence -without music in the background without the sounds of a computer humming or a TV set droning - just sitting in the sounds of silence.

Zen master and monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, observes:

Silence is often described as the absence sound and yet
silence is a very powerful sound.

Here in the desert, the time just before dawn is perhaps the most silent time of the day. This morning when I woke up I began my "deep listening" by paying attention to  the sounds in the silence- the ever so gentle sound of raindrops splashing on my window pane, the chirping of the birds waking up to greet a new day, the sound of the wind rustling in the palm trees. 

Then my "deep listening" went even deeper as I carefully listened beyond the sounds to the powerful sound of silence thundering beneath it all. The silence spoke so loudly to me - it was the humming of the universe, the "Om," the sound of Holy Presence singing a love song at the dawn of a new day.

Thich Nhat Hanh also said:

When you've been able to still all the noise inside of you, 
when you've been able to establish silence, a thundering silence,
you begin to hear the deepest kind of calling within yourself.

Such profound wisdom.

Of course, you don't have to live in a desert to engage in "deep listening." Get unplugged, go to a quiet place, clear your mind, and listen, listen deeply - you may be surprised at what you will hear.


  1. Perfect and just what the doctor ordered!

  2. Thank you, Paul! I was curious if you thought about publishing all your blog post for each year you post them. Lots of times I enjoy them so much, I wish I could refer back to them. Thank you, again for the Beauty you share.