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Receptivity: Deep Listening as an Antidote to Reactivity and Violence

In these hyped up divisive times, there is an ever-greater need for tools to de-condition ourselves from reactivity. The practice of listening – within ourselves and with others – is much more significant than we often acknowledge. 

The essence of practice is to be present with what is. We engage wholeheartedly in life by opening – with full receptivity- to life. As a dharma teacher I am well aware of how practice frees us from individual and collective distortion. As a woman I am aware that one such distortion in our society is the exaggerated masculine. Surprisingly it has been my Zen practice that has been my truest guide to remembering the deep feminine way of being, which is receptivity. I believe this is the kind of shift we need to see in our world-at-large. The receptive muscles we develop in practice reflect non-violence and non-separation.

The contrast of receptivity against the backdrop of a world conditioned to impose, label, judge, and solve, is the contrast between non-violence and violence. But…influenced by the illusion of separation and competition, we often fall into reactivity, forgetting the medicine that our receptive nature has to offer. By learning to take life in from a place of compassionate neutrality, we shift from spectator to engaged participant.  We shift from judgment to clear seeing. And from separation to interconnection.

We need to learn to say more through speaking less… and to see one another clearly rather than competing to be right. I have found that the assumption that “I need to be heard” is often a misconception when the real need is to listen. This requires that we move beyond the fear of what will happen when we let go of asserting the self and surrender to presence.

In Sunday’s teaching, I invite inquiry into questions such as these: 

  • What happens when we deeply listen… to our self? To another? To any form of life?
  • Who listens? What reveals itself through our listening? What heals itself through listening?
  • What are we actually affirming when we call out a demand rather than listen? What does the practice of listening reveal to us about our ego structures?
  • What happens, in the way of growth, when we are willing to hear, even during great conflict?

Listening to life as it unfolds moment by moment, is the essence of meditation. Deep Listening means to listen from full presence. It means listening to one another in a more attentive way, and to listen to life, moment by moment, without imposing our ideas onto life. We listen beyond surface thoughts or words to what is actually going on underneath. Practice invites us to cultivate awake receptivity with every opportunity.

In our fast-paced, busy world, receiving another human being without inserting one’s ego is an act of generosity. Deep listening dissolves the bubble of “I/Me” in any conversation or interaction. The listener has no agenda other than giving the whole of your attention to the person you are listening to with nonjudgment—not trying to fix or change anything or even be “helpful” to the other, but allowing our friend, coworker, loved one, or stranger to feel seen and heard. Listening in this way is a meditation in itself.

These reflections are inspired by my new book on Relational Mindfulness: A Handbook for Deepening Our Connection with Ourselves, Each Other, and the Planet (Wisdom 2018).