An Elegant, Deep Listening

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“When I become aware that I am attempting to remember what a client is saying, I realize that I am behind the moment rather than in it, and I am no longer deeply listening.” – Karen Hasskarl

Sounds outside seem sharper in the crisp, cold, thin air this Friday morning. Inside the bustle of the Bristol Bakery, the air is fuller; the sounds rounder. I have taken the day off to come here and reflect, to become self-aware, to write. How do I begin? What is the process? I know I have to listen. It’s why I’ve come here, though I’m interested in much more than just sounds.

I have come to discern that the same wisdom found in Karen’s quote above applies to the way I listen to myself, too. To see this clearly, I just need to replace the first phrase so the quote becomes: “When I am attempting to figure out what is arising in me, I am behind the moment rather than in it, and I am no longer deeply listening.” If I can calm those parts of me that want to know the outcome, those that are primarily focused on past events or future concerns, and instead hold myself gently in the moment, I can effortlessly “hear” all I need to know. Whether I have provided myself the time and space to listen inwardly, or the container for a client in a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy session, or simply the opportunity for understanding in a day-to-day encounter, all relationships are miraculously enhanced through a process of such deeper listening.

On it’s surface, the concept of listening seems simple enough. We hear what is being said, tune into the content, get a sense of its essence, run it through the filter of our assumptions, mentally add our two cents, and create some sort of response. Simple.

As I observe the others here in the bakery, I notice a younger man nodding affirmatively while being lectured by an elder, a frustrated woman speaking to a girlfriend who is showing concern, a man working on a document being bothered by someone with a lot of questions, and a couple attempting to hold a conversation while checking email on their cell phones. One can only imagine all the personal filters, expectations, and projections bouncing around the room – including my own through my observations.

Even with all the speaking and listening happening in the bakery, I wonder who will leave feeling as though they have been heard. In the end, isn’t this what we all really need? Through being truly heard, we hear ourselves, and that changes everything.

What sort of listening supports being heard? And what if all these ordinary interactions had a synchronicity and a divine timing behind them? What if they were all mini opportunities for some bigger transformative understanding? How might a deeper sort of listening enhance all that? It’s already seeming less simple, isn’t it?

For deep listening to occur in such a way that it supports a transformative experience, it requires a multifaceted, elegant process: one that takes place within the spacious relationship between speaker, listener, and Divine presence. It is refined, dignified grace that comes through this relationship that makes deep listening such an elegant process.

In a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy session, and probably in all things, the elegance begins with intention. The client comes into the relationship with some unique reason for being present to himself in the moment. The practitioner comes with the intention to create space for the client to become self-aware. Those intentions cleanly in place, Divine presence finds an opening to bring love, to hold open a door, to light a path, or to provide a kind-hearted nudge in some mysterious direction.

When such a relationship has been entered into, the space for deep listening widens exponentially through continued profound presence to what is. Deep listening begins to support all those present in the relationship. Hence the elegance of the process: all involved become speakers, all involved become listeners, and all involved are somehow transformed.

As with any relationship, that of elegant deep listening relies on certain essential elements that support its intention and its integrity. There is a baking-like recipe, if you will, for the conjuring of it, a ritual that creates the environment for the expression of deep listening, whether in a Phoenix Rising session, in a practioner’s personal practice, or in any other situation where listening becomes more than a passing courtesy or friendly connection. When the listener and the listened-to cultivate and apply these elements, they experience something extraordinary.

Just as any great baker knows the key ingredients for his most divine dessert, an elegant listener learns to rely on these three key multifaceted elements:

Strength-Yielding Vulnerability

In order to listen deeply, we must cultivate the ability to show up as fully unmasked as possible, without armor or weapons to barricade us from awareness. As such, we step in front of our own protections rather than stay hidden behind them. When we can do this, we come to the listening process with the more humble offerings of openness and vulnerability.

As we take even further steps away from our old ways of being, we discover that we are gradually more ready and willing to know who we truly are. We grow from that knowledge. We develop a bigger willingness to hear what is, rather than what we might want or hope to hear.

From such vulnerability comes the strength to relinquish control of the moment, the outcome of the moment, and any subtle agenda born of wanting control. Strength-yielding vulnerability also provides a foundation upon which to build patience and trust for the unfolding of the elegant process. This, in turn, allows us to delight in curiosity, wonder, and amazement while we listen, as if we are being told a story we have never heard before but somehow already know.

From such curiosity, we can come to the deep listening relationship with unbridled acceptance of what is ready to be heard, without any attachment to or rejection of any part.

Embodied Awareness

Our most available sources of all the material that wants to be heard, whether human or Divine, are our bodies. They are conduits for awareness, discovery, and Knowledge. We are divinely connected energy integrated into the most elegant arrangement of unexplainable structures and systems. Through the miracle of being in a body, we can tune into our physical sensations – senses of touch, hearing, sight, smell, and energy – to inform our ability to listen. The more of our senses and layers of being human we can involve, the deeper the listening to ourselves and others, and the more directly we can become aware of the “something bigger” we are energetically connected to. We are antennas for awareness on all levels.

Because our bodies are so incredibly rich with interrelated sensors that link our physicality to our thoughts, emotions, memory, imagination, and intuition, deep listening is enhanced by an ability to honor edges – both our own and the edges of our clients and others with whom we are in relationship. It is important to grow respect for boundaries around the power and timing of awareness, allowing doors to open in a way that matches the body’s in-the-moment capacity to form the internal links that empower, rather than diminish a person’s ability to move forward in an integrated way. Whether the door is barely cracked or flung wide open, our bodies are fully involved. Both listener and listen-to are supported by returning to trust – trust in our capacity to discern the boundaries of readiness for awareness as well as trust in the timeliness of Divine intervention. In a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy session, the client’s body and process often mirrors the practitioner’s own shadows and horizons of approaching change. Because of this, a practitioner must learn not only to trust himself and this capacity to discern but also the client’s own capacity to discern.

Loving Presence

Loving presence isn’t something that we do. It isn’t something that we can give. It is a way of being with ourselves and others that can only be felt when all the above is in place. It is an intimate connection that, oddly enough, requires both client and practitioner to get out of their own ways. It is the process of being seen and heard internally and externally with agenda-less love. It is what takes form as it is baked in the oven of deep listening.

Loving presence is the warm, fragrant bread falling out of the baker’s pan, the life-sustaining result that is created when none of the ingredients are forgotten or intentionally omitted.

In order for it to come out of the pan with ease, it needs to have been loosened by two conditions: spaciousness and silence. Each loaf needs the unhurried time to set, to cool, and to withdraw from the confines of the pan that was once a much-needed support to its form. In order for the bread to be consumed, it helps to be silent while we chew. As we become nourished through digestion rather than through eating, so do we become more clear through deep listening rather than speaking. It is silence that provides the digestion of what arises through loving presence.

Elegant deep listening leaves us changed, sometimes in big ways though more often in subtle ways. The change comes not only through self- awareness, but also through the further integration of that self-awareness within the framework of how we live our human lives: our work, our play, our families, and our other relationships. Self-awareness comes through our ability to connect with the already knowing part of us that is Divine by nature. And its nature is unchanging. How paradoxical it is that from that unchanging perspective, human transformation becomes possible.

I am about ready to leave the bakery for the rest of the day. As I look around, some of the same people are still here, still trying to listen to each other, and there are some new arrivals just starting in. Not much seems changed by all the interactions. But I know I have changed, again, by the intra-action I’ve had with myself through paper and pen. But only because I’ve been listening – deeply and, yes, elegantly.

About the Author

Elissa Cobb

Elissa brings more than 25 years of combined practice and teaching experience in bodymind practices, yoga, and yoga therapy to her writings, including her experience as the former Director of Training Programs with Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. She holds a Master’s degree in Embodiment Studies, has developed many of the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy training programs, and has trained hundreds of students. Elissa is the author of The Forgotten Body: A Way of Knowing and Understanding Self. She is a life-long resident of Vermont.

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