The perpetual learner that I am, I'm currently following a course that involves awareness training which includes learning how to listen. This is very useful, as unlike speaking and communication skills, listening skills are not something that are often taught. After all, our propensity is to talk, to make a point and to air opinion. Listening feels like a passive action, an impatient pause or lull while waiting for our turn to open our mouth and speak our mind. As a matter of fact, many of our conversations consist of people speaking whatever it is that interests them with nobody really listening to what the other person is saying.
My professor tells me in order to really understand what 's happening and to see the big picture on how things work, it's important to connect to the deeper source of knowing within ourselves. Observing and deep listening is crucial to arriving at this understanding, without which we cannot move forward and generate new ideas and thinking.
There are, according to him, four levels of listening. The first is what he calls 'downloading,' where the act of listening is one of reconfirming the same old ideas, opinions and judgments of 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've heard that one before,' or 'I wish he'd stop talking so I could go and pick up my laundry.' This is the level where we often operate, when we make small talk, try to be polite and pretend to show interest where there is actually none. On this level we listen out of habit and from the perspective of our judgmental self. The sort of superficial chitchats we make at cocktail parties.
The second level of listening is slightly deeper and more attentive. We pay attention to what is being said and offer a different perspective or new information in a dialogue or an argument type of exchange depending on how we respond to the facts presented. This level of listening comes from outside us as we keep our mind open to new data. We listen not merely to reconfirm our existing belief, but are open to new information even though they are different from ours. With this type of listening we can have a good intellectual discussion or a combative argument, depending on the direction the conversation takes us.
The third level of listening is deeper still, coming from within. Our open heart. Here we listen empathically, trying to comprehend from the speaker's perspective and making an emotional connection. We listen to understand, not to judge; to connect with the other person, not by adopting their point of view but by being able to see where that view comes from in a heartfelt and positive interaction. The result of this open heart conversation is a greater sense of connection, tolerance and understanding.
The deepest level of listening is listening from the Source. A listening that embodies the open mind, heart and also an open will. This type of listening is generative, in the sense that what comes up from the conversation is not only a deeper connection but the birth of new ideas, a shift in the self and identity and a sense of an emerging future.
This generative listening is also the hardest to do. Normally when we listen to others we are conditioned by the 'voices' that arise within us. Voices that are there through the force of habit and which influence our reactive responses. These are the Voice of Judgment, the Voice of Criticism and the Voice of Fear. We know them because they're always there when we interact with others, colouring our perception, influencing our opinion, shaping our reactions and emotions. And the reason why they're there is because they are the manifestations of our mental model; our belief system, the values and the perspectives that we adopt throughout our lives and define our so called character.
Deep listening requires us to suspend all these voices. It requires an open will and a real intention. It involves the silencing of our mind with the objective is to come up with new ways of responding to situations that are not reactive, habitual or prone to the same old mistakes. Instead, this level of listening takes us to a place where a possible future situation is emerging, born out of a different way of looking at things. Listening without judgment, without criticism and without fear frees us from the trap of our Ego and allows us to access our deeper wisdom. The practical result is creative solutions to problems that are more wholistic, inclusive and relevant to all the stake holders.
This approach is actually quite spiritual, at least to my ears. Although the way my professor explains it, makes it sound technical and systematic. This is after all, an MIT course. There's a tested method to all of this. To reach this level of listening requires practice and going through some disciplined steps involving the conscious raising of one's attention and level of awareness. He then gives us a solo assignment, which is to go off on our own for a few hours, stay outdoors and practice stillness and listening to natureWhIt MIT professor is telling us to go and meditate!
Go forth and connect with the source and return with what new wisdom and understanding you come up with. Let go of your past and your emotional baggage. Note what impressions you get and the possible future that emerges. I put on my sunhat, head to the beach, sit cross legged on a slab of rock and stare at the sea unmoving for three hours, watching the tides ebb and flow and listening to the sound of the incessant rise and fall of the rolling waves. I listen to the sound around me and the sound within me, to my pulsating and beating heart. By the end of it I was thoroughly drenched and covered in coarse sand.
But I was happy and energised. I have learned a new wisdom. Which is the creative energy that moves the Universe is the same one that moves within us. We just need to listen and connect with it.
(Desi Anwar: first published in The Jakarta Globe)