THEOSOPHY, Vol. 85, No. 9, July, 1997
(Pages 270-273; Size: 10K)

STUDENT REFLECTIONS

[Article number (15) in this Department]

THE ART OF LISTENING

THERE ARE FEW more awkward positions to be in than that of having to say, "I heard you but I am afraid I wasn't listening." And on the other side of the picture, there are few more disheartening and crushing experiences than to talk to someone and see that blank look on their face which says they have not heard a thing we said. The same message comes across to us when we have made a suggestion in a conference and have seen that the chairman is way ahead of us thinking of his next question or proposal?

They have heard but not listened. But that is not all that has taken place. Something else has passed between the two, a distinct but often discounted message that speaks more loudly than any words.

Listening is often accepted as being a passive function, a condition in which we are doing nothing. But on deeper consideration we know that this is not the case. How we listen sends a strong and often conspicuous statement, a statement that can be helpful, harmful, encouraging or discouraging.

In the article "The Self is the Friend of Self and also its Enemy," William Q. Judge writes of a prominent defect of our culture -- the inattentive listener:

He listens to you, but only hears a part, and then, when repeating what he says he heard you say, he gives a version entirely at variance with yours. Or, listening to an argument or discussion, he only attends to that part which being familiar to him strikes him favorably. ... Such a defect as that one of not listening long to another man's views, but hurrying to tell him what you think yourself, is one that affects the acquiring of new ideas. If you constantly tell others what you think, you are gaining nothing. For your experience and views are your own, well known to you. The repeated expression of them only serves to imprint them more strongly on your mind. You do not receive any of the new lights that other minds might cast upon your philosophy if you gave them the opportunity. (Judge Articles I, pp. 309-310.) [Note: Since you may want to read it after you finish reading this article, I have provided a link to the article at the end of this one.--Compiler]
We can listen to another in many ways -- to their ideas, to the person, to their mannerisms, to what wasn't said, or we can listen for mistakes only. We can hear but not listen -- think about what we are going to say next or how we can improve on what has just been said. We could also spend the time thinking of how we would say it or how we would answer the question, not really hearing the speakers point of view.

The net result of this, for us, is a waste of time. And for the speaker it can be a mental slap in the face, a statement that we have already made up our minds that what is being said is not of value.

But what of the positive side? Is there a way to assist others when listening to them? Can listening be helpful and constructive? Can listening actually be used in such a way that it becomes a teaching tool? The answer is "Yes," once we become aware that our personalities contain a bundle of accepted ideas which often shroud the natural receptivity of our souls. Within our soul lies a storehouse of ancient wisdom. Therefore, any true education would elicit the learner to break through the clouds and free a ray of light from that inner sun, the eternal Ego. Compassionate and intelligent listening can do that.

How then do we, through our listening, tell the speaker of our interest in the value of what they have to say? First by attentively listening to all of what is being said. Second, by pursuing further inquiry into the speaker's topic. Such questions as: What do you mean by this? How would that apply here? Has this ever been put into practice? Would this work with everyone? Please explain what you mean by -- etc., etc.

This line of questioning enables our speaker to search for answers and explanations, which requires reflection. Hence, we are asking the speaker to dig deeper into his or her own inner knowledge, and perhaps even assist them in clarifying some of their own treasured bundles of personal preconceptions.

Inquiry of this kind demands an active and intelligent form of perception, a perception that sees all around a statement, asks what is implied, what the effect might be, what is its source and what has been omitted. Effective perception actively peers under and beyond. It wanders about, asks why, when, where, from; it is divergent and playful. An open mind allows consciousness to enjoy a wider freedom and eventually gives way to what may be termed "depth perception." "Consciousness,"(1) an article published in Lucifer, October, 1888, speaks of a particular class of consciousness:

Its dimensions lie in three directions. Not only does it exist in all directions superficially, but it further penetrates below the surface in possessing the quality of depth...

Within that deep region ... the consciousness may find unending employment. This class of consciousness gives to the world those men from whom it learns ... Such men are the richest of earthly beings...

This form of consciousness the article names spiritual or super-sensuous and says that it moves: "...amidst the hidden causes of the sensuous and intellectual." Is this not the class of consciousness for which we all strive?

Hence, true perception requires that we see beyond our own preconceptions, while true listening requires that we hear beyond them. True listeners, therefore, quiet the sounds of their own importance in order to hear.

Creatively listening stands eagerly ready with an array of clarifying questions aimed at helping both the listener and the speaker. This calibre of listening and questioning acts as a lever to spark the emergence of a truly inquiring mind. A mind of this sort has the ability to project before the vision of the speaker the clarity and bias of his or her perceptions and reawaken the innate desire for learning.

We will close with these remarks from an Italian journalist who recently wrote:

Actually, to listen means to pay attention with our whole being and this requires time, but, above all, our attention, in that we have to place the interest of another human being before ours. In other words, it requires a certain degree of altruism, knowledge, patience and a mastery of oneself.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:

Who would probe the inmost secrets of Nature, must transcend the narrow limitations of sense, and transfer his consciousness into the region of noumena and the sphere of primal causes. To effect this he must develop faculties which are absolutely dormant -- save in a few rare exceptional cases -- in the constitution of our Race.

--H. P. BLAVATSKY

Note: In case you want to read it, before going on to the next article in this Department, here's a link to the article by WQJ, entitled "The Self is the Friend of Self and also its Enemy", that was quoted from in the above article.--Compiler

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ONE (1) FOOTNOTE LISTED BELOW:

(1) This article has been reprinted in Theosophical Articles and Notes, p. 150.
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