We invoke your name, Avalokiteshvara. We aspire to learn your way of listening in order to help relieve the suffering in the world. You know how to listen in order to understand. We invoke your name in order to practice listening with all our attention and open-heartedness. We will sit and listen without any prejudice. We will sit and listen without judging or reacting. We will sit and listen in order to understand. We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid. We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.
– Chanting from the Heart, Parallax Press, 2006, p. 30
As mentioned in my last post, I plan on sharing my journal entries and the answers to the three questions I put together for use in our newly formed Bodhisattva Reflection Group. Today marks the end of week one in our five week practice. It never ceases to amaze and delight me how powerful it can be to put even just a small amount of intention into something in particular – whether it’s practice related or otherwise. Simply reading this Bodhisattva verse each day over the last week was enough to spur a number of insights and understandings.
It’s like when you go from never hearing about, say, visiting Yellowstone National Park and then when you start setting your sights on wanting to venture there, you suddenly find yourself encountering mentions of it all over the place. I find most things are like that, and working with the Bodhisattvas is no different.
Now, I didn’t journal every day. I journaled when I felt called to. Here’s what resulted:
Not taking things to extremes:
I’ve found that sometimes folks are really put off when I listen without reacting – it can be easy to think I’m not actually listening or don’t care and seem apathetic. So I find this part a little tricky to navigate at times.
Sometimes I feel as though I can embody this Bodhi. to a detriment, applying it to encounters almost too much, to the point where I am unable to offer input/ideas/advice when it’s asked for.
I also want to be careful with thinking I’m able to hear what’s being left unsaid, when really it might simply be my own judgements and misperceptions kicking up. In order to accurately assess what is being left unsaid takes great skill, which I can sometimes think I have but don’t.
In working with young children as a nanny – including an 11-month old baby – it’s very clear and easy to see how kids look to their surrounding adults for their cues on how to react and respond to situations happening in the present moment. For example: if the baby, who is learning how to pull up on things and crawl around falls over, the tumble is usually followed by a quiet pause. Sometimes it’s clear that the tumble was more startling and/or frustrating to her than physically painful, but if I were to show a face of shock and panic when she fell over, it would likely trigger her to then start crying, based on my reaction. However, I’ve seen this same instance where if I meet her with a straight face and no ampped up emotional reaction, that silent pause allows her to see that she’s totally fine, and there’s no need for her to cry and get worked up. That silent pause then allows her to gauge her own situation and realize she’s totally fine.
The line: We will sit and listen without judging or reacting is perhaps my favorite line in this reading. Being able to listen without judging or reacting takes a great deal of ongoing practice and skill. It’s so easy to insert our own layers of experience and baggage onto someone else’s situation – and I see it often just how unhelpful it is when someone shares upsetting or challenging news to have it be met with other peoples dramatic reactions. Fueling our interactions with drama is really common. And drama never aides the situation – it’s never a helpful energy to insert into a situation.
Personal reflection Q’s:
– How do I practice listening without the filter of my own experiences and opinions?
– How do I listen as a witness/observer vs. as a participant?
Basically, I see this Bodhisattva as representing a way for us to listen without an agenda or an objective.
When we listen deeply – which is to say without judgement – we will know what to say and what not to say when the time comes. When we listen half-focused, spurred by our own judgements and through the filters of our own world view, it’s possible (and maybe even likely) that our words will not be kind or helpful.
We will sit and listen in order to understand. This line does not mean to understand from our own personal lens, it means to understand from the other person’s lens. In order to develop understanding of someone else’s experience, we must find ways to unglue our self from our own perspective and step into the other person’s perspective. AND we must also find ways to relate with others without diminishing their situation and feelings.
So we must do both: step into their perspective and out of our own; and find ways to relate without watering down their experience.
Here are the three weekly reflection questions, which everyone in our group answers each Sunday and emails out to the rest of the group:
1. How would you summarize this verse in your own words?
To generate the capacity to listen from the other person’s perspective and not from our own.
2. What do you see as being your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to the qualities of this Bodhisattva?
Strength: I feel as though I am generally able to listen to others in order to generate more understanding about their situation, verses trying to further my own agenda. I also feel as though I do a pretty good job of listening without reacting. Weakness: Honestly I feel as though my weakness has to do with sometimes listening too deeply, to the point of not being able to offer words/input/thoughts if/when they get asked for. For me, there is way of overdoing deep listening, to the point of not being able to engage verbally.
3. What is something you’ve gleaned by reflecting on this Bodhisattva this past week?
I think the line: We will sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what is being left unsaid, is a tricky one to navigate sometimes. For me, I can sometimes think I know what’s being left unsaid when really it’s just my own judgments and perceptions factoring in, which are not accurate, or at least not the whole story. This is something I want to pay more attention to in myself. While I think it’s impossible to be 100% free of judgments (we’re human, we judge, it’s par for the course), I can work at investigating and being more aware of when my judgements may be masquerading around as what I regard as being real or factual. Thay’s teaching of Am I Sure? comes to mind. Keeping that teaching alive I think is very important, especially when it comes to formulating ideas around what I think is being left unsaid.