We all have a sense of how important listening is for our lives but how do we understand it? Listening can be the doorway to open hearted understanding of what it means to be human.
Through the doorway of listening we can access the utter mystery of our lives and then live that understanding in our unique way in relation to others and the earth as the future becomes us.
Listening includes; listening to oneself, listening to another, listening to another who is seen and felt not to be separate from oneself and, listening which shows up maturely as, I and thou.
We grow from birth through stages of development to become ever more independent and autonomous physically and psychologically from others and the physical environment which is necessary given our complex nature and our need to be able to express and navigate as the sophisticated beings we are in the world.
This existential reality of being distinct and separate however has a downside which is that consciously and unconsciously we are afraid of and desperate in recognizing all the opposition inherent in the “things” that make up our experience in the universe and because of this, we spend a lot of time listening within and outside of ourselves, to look for a solution, but this tends to reinforce the view that separation and opposition are facts of life. We have forgotten our always already native condition of non-separation.
The situation feels ominous indeed, because all things are in opposition to each other and all things including ourselves come and go constantly through either destructive means, as in conflict between two people or two nations or disintegration inherent in disease and the changing seasons. We feel the inherent insecurity and as a result are deeply ill at ease. Initially, we listen for some kind of answer or resolution. We listen for understanding and relief.
As a college student, my angst was mostly typical; choosing a major, finding friends and my place in young adulthood away from the safety of my family. During this time, I stumbled upon a situation that provoked my seeking heart.
One of the tasks at my part time job at the funeral home was to go to homes and hospitals in order to get the deceased. Two situations struck me to the core: the fact of death and its impact on the loved ones who were at times intensely grief stricken. Squeamishness was not my problem; I did my job effectively but the existential concern around life and death definitely became activated.
The open eyes of the dead haunted me; I was struck by how lifeless they were and how the light was absolutely gone from them and how this juxtaposed with the vibrant light in living eyes. It was boldly obvious that not only was life no longer present but also the universality of death. I could not escape this awareness and noticed deep fear and a sense of timelessness as I considered my own life and death.
When picking up a little girl about 9 years old, who died from a long term illness at home; I watched her father carrying her emaciated and lifeless body from the upstairs to the living room, where my partner and I waited to put her on the gurney. Her mother was standing nearby as the two of them glided down the stairs.
Intense sadness was palpable in the room and I could barely breathe as this scenario unfolded. It was moving to observe this father’s profound and loving care even as his broken heartedness was also so apparent. My mind just stopped and the moment felt sacred. We were together all of 15 minutes and this experience continues to impact me to this day because I realize how it actually taught me everything about how to live this life.
All who we love will leave us or we them eventually, and all life’s successes will begin fading immediately after their achievement. Life includes change and loss and therefore is bittersweet and often quite painful, and fully embracing the broken-hearted aspect of our experience without shutting down and refusing to fully participate is quite important and difficult to consistently embody.
Listening for an answer beyond the confusion and suffering is often pregnant with a longing for something beyond the complexity of our lives, perhaps more simplicity and peace. This listening includes the objects of our own subjective anxiety and the objects of the complicated world around us. The more we listen, especially to our own inner dis-ease, the more we may become aware of the space through and around our frantic minds. In spite of our selves we may become more still and quiet.
We also may feel less inclined to project and search outside ourselves, recognizing that we cannot control and defeat the complexity. Through our listening and appraisal of the situation, we surrender our nervous reactions and just remain still with and as all that is, and then a profound aspect of our being can emerge and naturally becomes more acute and active.
When we stop and listen beyond all the frantic reactions; our minds will quiet down naturally and we can recognize what has always been true of us. Our preoccupation with the dangerous and complex world slows down and at times even completely disappears. The source of this strength is within, although the more we actually look within in order to find it, the more mysterious our identity becomes. We cannot specifically locate this source. It just is.
The more we listen to our body and mind in this way, the more this mystery asserts itself. Listening has become a gateway for us to realize the source of being which is universal. We see and feel this source and the infinite capacity for listening inherent and notice that the discursive mind plays an important but secondary role.
The source of being outshines all form; one night many years ago while walking with a friend in the NYC subway; overwhelming light-source which was not actually light, blasted through my awareness and revealed itself to be the subway, myself, all things and no-thing (unlimited). The apparent phenomenon of william miller, subway, and world were not perceptible at all, only the undifferentiated display of the unknowable.
From an absolute perspective; we are everything, no-thing and beyond. There is no separation. Our rational capacity including the scientific method splits the non-separate universe into the apparent things that make it up. The universe shows up as all things. Words and analysis can only serve as pointers.
This has been and continues to be a very important lesson. Our rational minds are an expression of and in service to that which cannot be named or known, not the other way around. The mind including the scientific method are significant in how they can help us to navigate our relative experience but culturally we tend to give too much importance to this function and as a result profoundly limit our selves, each other and life overall which causes our greatest suffering.
Inevitably as confidence in our native condition grows, we begin to look at the world we inhabit and much to our surprise we no longer see so much opposition and danger but more beauty and connection. We may notice how the world which includes us is vibrantly alive and teaming with nourishing connections. This recognition of the interdependence of all things may give way to an experience of ecstatic intoxication which can be overwhelming at times since we have been so long used to opposition and danger.
Gradually, we cannot tell where “I” end and the “world out there” begins and eventually the designations of subject (me witnessing) and object (thing witnessed) fall away completely. This is where subject and object are seen and felt as not different by even an infinitesimal speck. The utter mystery of who listens and what is listened to asserts itself again and again. This is whole-being listening and signifies a profound shift and milestone born out of our brave and daring intention to listen beyond the frantic movements of our discursive minds in relationship.
In 2002 while on retreat, it was revealing and shocking to note how relationships really are when my attention is not caught in the habitual and limiting mental story about them that often blares in my head. In the evening, about 12 people including myself were standing in a circle discussing the felt sense of being which arises when individuals respectively come together free from attachment to their mental stories.
My subjective experience expanded to include all the other people in the group while paradoxically; I was still an individual in this group. This experience was reported similarly by most of the others.
The air between and around us was thick like I could climb on it and “It” felt like an extension of myself and the others. “I” was everything; the other people, the floor, the air and this felt sense of self was not limited in any way. It was fulsomely immanent as well as transcendentally empty of any separate thing-ness.
The conversation felt like one-person was talking and listening. We were so connected that another person’s words and stated feelings felt like my own and others had the same experience as per the reporting around the circle. The whole group was not separate from my own experience at all and paradoxically, we were also fully capable as our own separate selves.
I felt excruciatingly vulnerable and quivered with emotion in a positive way, as we stood together considering this mutual experience in and as relationship. I fell in love with each person and life itself in such a way that was ecstatic. We called this ecstatic communion.
Whole-being listening reveals that we are the world which includes all the positive and negative, constructive and destructive attitudes and actions that make up each of us. We embody all these attitudes and actions in and as all of our relationships; with ourselves, with each other and with, the earth.
Another very important learning from this retreat was that if I am not responsible for bringing myself to the group and to life in such a way that can help effect such individual and collective emergence, it will not happen. Only I can be responsible for my attitudes and actions.
As this “new” world emerges in, through and around us, we may not want to do much but just be still and behold the majestic beauty of all that is, which includes ourselves. Over time though, we see the logic of the many things and how they operate interdependently even through conflict and unpleasantness and recognize a felt need to respond to the world with full awareness and action befitting our new understanding because we see and feel real suffering.
We become compassion just by being awake to whom we really are and recognize new creative potential as our actions in the world. The world takes on more of an ordinary quality. We no longer doubt or are intoxicated by our understanding of non-separation, or non-duality and become mobilized to respond to our world because we see suffering and feel compelled to alleviate it.
This is where whole-being listening shows up fully active as relationship with all manifest life. We no longer resist being here fully as conscious beings, who know ourselves to be universal and unlimited as well as personal and limited. We are both and, the mystery beyond and feel inspired to live this understanding for the welfare of the other(s).
I have always been fascinated with the experiences which occur while meditating and sought them again and again with strong intention. It never occurred to me how exhausting this was or how it isolated me from other people and the environment until 2010 while participating in a Sangha* meeting.
Suddenly, I felt myself land fully into my own body. It felt like an elevator slamming into the basement level. It was not an experience but a spontaneous ceasing of activity or resistance to being here which I noticed was a self-generated activity intending to actually escape my body and this life. I came to rest in and as my body which included universal consciousness and matter at the same time. I noted both the unlimited aspect of indestructible consciousness and the limited aspect of vulnerable and frail humanity. I could see the whole catastrophe of life, death and beyond as demonstrated through and as William Miller.
If this was not enough, I noticed immediately how effortlessly connected I was to the other people in the meeting and all others whether in Sangha or not. The connection was felt in the heart and I noticed a heart-based intelligence come alive in me. My responsive care for all in relationship became an urgently felt desire and priority.
Spiritual experiences and mere concern about identity while not unimportant receded to the background. This change has only deepened and clarified since and it is obvious that there is no end and many beginnings forever, going forward.
There is no doubt that the father I met briefly in my college days lovingly cared for his daughter throughout her life as well as through her death and this strikes me as how to live this life as fully aware of the entire continuum of our identity which includes both the universal and the local. There being no difference or conflict between these two apparent aspects. We are both and the mystery beyond……
As we learn and grow in relationship, we may experience listening as an act of love, which not only facilitates connection but enlivens all it touches and effortlessly encourages more and more holistic healing and depth of awareness in ourselves and others. This powerful listening is received and given mutually within relationships that resonate deeply, as the mystery of self, other and beyond.
The paradox of kosmic existence allows us to see and feel from the depth of our own hearts as always already whole and complete while also responding to the urgent need to listen as whole beings as an ongoing service to all that we come in contact with including our beloved earth because as we understand more and more, all life depends on it. Listening as whole beings to ourselves, to others and to our planet can be the doorway through which we save ourselves from a destructive and fear-based life.
When individuals come together in this manner a consciously embodied field emerges and they may feel not only the immensity of universal being but also the creative potential of the individual and group inherent, as beyond comprehension. Moving forward, there is a compelling urge to create even if one or a group are not clear as to the why or what of it.
This is where individuals who have come together as a collective are listening as the source of being itself or listening to the future, as the future emerges in the present as creative action both individually and collectively. A very different world perpetually emerges where each one of us listens ever more holistically: to ourselves, to each other, to the planet and to the future.
1. Kosmic: Greek word used to describe the universe where earth and heaven, consciousness and matter are equally implied and not separate.
2. Sangha: Buddhist term which describes the collective of individuals who come together to practice.
William Miller June 6, 2011
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Heart-Awakening 21st Century Spirituality