Attention is the rarest
and purest form of generosity.
I had a radical thought the other day. When I say radical I’m speaking about the thought being radical to me, though I’m sure there are a few people in the world that would also find it radical.
Earlier this morning I sat comfortably watching my breath come and go while engaged in my mindfulness practice. It was then that I started thinking about how I needed to shake things up a little within my practice. I thought about how repetitive my practice had become and while repetition within practice can have profound benefits it can also create profound spaces of being stuck. Repetition can if you’re not careful whittle down your attention..
So while pondering if I perhaps was in a rut or enjoying the comfort of the routine a bit much, maybe it was time to throw out the breath and start listening instead. Instead of feeling the soft air come in through my nose to fill my lungs and then reverse itself and with each exhale I’d instead use my hearing as my focus.
The breath becomes to those of us who practice mindfulness meditation even for a few minutes every day a reliable tool for developing our focus on a single activity and delivering us from the incessant stream of noise that is made of our thoughts.While in practice the breath becomes a plateau to anchor our mind to and observe what’s going on within and without, what’s going on everywhere really.
I got up from my old chair with it’s wonderful woven seat and walked around the house for a few minutes while listening to whatever came my way. If I noticed I was caught in a thought stream just as with the breath I gently brought myself back to (Radical Thought) Listening. And as I would if I was watching my breath I left judgment of my thinking out of the discussion and listened.
Back and forth, back and forth from thinking to listening and back to thinking, Hmmm I wondered was that a the mail truck stopping outside to drop off today’s mail? Of course it was and off I went out the door and down the driveway to retrieve it. These wonderful distractions seem to visit me at the right time, the right time being anytime I’m willing to latch onto one of them and take a ride on the distraction express. It never ceases to amaze me how often I’m so willing to crumble under such little pressure as a thought, and how often I’m willing to relinquish attention for a ride on a carousel. Gotta smile, right?
Listening as an alternative to watching my breath during my sitting practice turned out to be way more difficult than I’d expected. It is after all a radical shift so what did I expect, right? But my little walk to retrieve the mail showed me a way to integrate listening into my practice without tearing my hair out or yelling at the neighbor cat (just kidding).
I’ve started using listening while I’m out for a daily walk and occasionally while I sit in meditation. I’ve found that when I notice I’m about to be caught in a thought stream I breathe in and out a couple of times and then switch to listening while I continue walking. Each time my thoughts return I go to the breath briefly before I engage my listening. by going to the breath first I become grounded and then I can better use listening as I would the breath.
When I’m listening I just listen without labeling what I’m hearing and I also try and let the sounds come to me and not go searching for what might be making noise around the corner, I find this helps me to clear and expand my mind.
Does this help in listening to people? I think it does, it allows me to become more aware of my assumptions when they pop into my mind as well as other distractions that happen while in a conversation. Overall I my listening is more impartial and open to the ideas being shared with me. I still have lots of work to do but what I once thought of as a radical idea has now become part of my mindfulness practice.
Even if you don’t have regular mindfulness practice you can still exercise your listening muscles and become a better listener. Try and breakaway from what ever your doing for a few minutes a couple of times a day and listen to everything going on around you. things like music playing, traffic sounds, sounds from nature or people talking. See if you can separate what your hearing from your thoughts by not labeling anything.
This is a great exercise to do during a coffee break or while at your desk at work, close your eyes and listen. Five or ten minutes a day and you’ll start to see yourself becoming a deeper listener.
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