A meditation practice begins with listening
Have you ever said to yourself I can’t hear myself think? There have been times when I have: At times when I am deluged with external activity, expectations or demands and my head is over run with a multitude of thoughts. I feel fragmented, pulled in many different directions and lost to myself. Sometimes I lose track of me, of what is most authentic in myself. There is the sensation of feeling as if I am skimming off the top surface of life. Yet there is so much more that I intuit is there. The “so much more” or, what lies beneath the surface is what I long to discover. I have found in meditation that is possible. It is through listening with the heart.
Listening for my authentic self
Meditation is not magic. First of all, the practice of meditation takes motivation to want to do it. Then, to integrate the practice of meditation into the daily routine is fueled by an agreement with yourself that you want to work to discover what is most authentic within you. How can I recognize what is real at an essential level of my being? By listening inwardly. It may become apparent that listening is a core dimension in meditating and in living every day.
So, how do I begin a meditation practice?
- I find the motivation
- I agree to commit to the routine
- I listen to my innermost yearnings
- I recognize what is real at the essential level of my being
When I meditate, when I stop and slow down, I begin to be able to hear myself think. Instead of my thoughts being entangled like a knotted-up ball of yarn, in the quiet of meditation I begin to listen to the thoughts, feelings, attitudes that move within me. If I center in the stillness of meditation, the knot of thoughts in my head, disentangle one from the other. Like finding one thread of yarn from a tangled ball, I am able to find and to listen to one thought at a time as it moves through my mind. In meditation I listen not only auditorily but with my heart. At the end of the thread of thought the quieted mind finds stillness or silence.
What do I do when my mind wanders?
I let go
As I meditate, if I don’t grasp hold of a thought, but notice how a thought moves in and out of my awareness, I observe that simply by listening to what is going on inside of me, I empty and am able to be more open and receptive. The quiet space around and within me increases in depth and breath, like when you skip a stone across the water and it ripples further and further out. The silence grows.
A metaphor may further clarify the connection between how to listen and the practice of meditation. A person with the habit of hoarding, for many complex psychological reasons, holds on to material things. A person with the habitual behavior of hoarding keeps every scrap of paper, and accumulates mountains of material objects until it can become difficult to physically move around. The person is inundated and overwhelmed with all the contents in her home. It is difficult for such a person to throw away or discard anything.
Now consider what it might be like if someone came to help the person overwhelmed with so many material goods, to notice and consider what she holds on to, maybe even why, and then let it go. Rather than holding on, to let go. Discard the superfluous. To clear the space. To make room. The metaphor of hoarding and then de-cluttering parallels the process of inner listening when meditating. The person who comes to help de-clutter your inner being is you. You make an effort to create more open space.
From listening within the meditation, I listen with expanded openness in other areas of my life. From listening in meditation, listening is internalized as an attitude into who I am and how I want to live. I become better able to listen to others. Becoming more present in how I listen is not unique to me, but is a universal experience to many individuals who meditate.
I find myself with the question, why meditate? Many individuals may answer that question differently.
The inner sense that there is more to life than meets the eye.
My response is that I sensed or intuited that there was more to life than what meets the eye. Fortunately, I happened upon a meditation practice that was a way to go deeper and to discover more than a superficial level of purpose in life. I felt and feel a great love for “more than meets the eye.”
I have heard it said that meditation is an exercise of the mind upon itself.
How can the mind explore itself?
Through deep inner listening or what we could call listening with the heart.
My mother taught me listening with the heart
This memory is from many years ago when I was a child in elementary school. I pose it as an example of what it means to listen with heart. In this particular example I was not the one listening with heart. My mother listened with heart to me.
Many afternoons after school, I sat down at one end of our kitchen table. I leaned my back against the wall, snuggling into a cozy corner. My mother stood at the counter chopping or mixing whatever she was preparing for dinner. While she worked, I recounted with pronounced emotions events from my day, and all my thoughts and feelings. I did not hold back, but conveyed frustrations, unhappiness, confusion and sometimes moments of fun and excitement.
What I remember most about that experience was how my mother listened. Her listening was not partial. She was attentive and present even as she prepared dinner. I felt her presence take in my thoughts, feelings and experiences, almost as if holding them.
The way she listened was palpable. I felt her listening. I saw her listening. Because as she listened her care for me was infused into how she listened. She did not interrupt me or deluge me with questions. Rather, she took in or received my words and feelings. She was wholeheartedly present. My mother listened to me with heart.
Meditation and Listening with Heart
In the meditation practice I learned and do, I can correlate the movements of meditation with my childhood experience. First in my childhood example there was finding a private place in the house to share what was in my heart. It was helpful that we were in a comfortable, uninterrupted place. This is true in meditation as well.
To meditate, I also find a quiet, private place. I associate meditating with that particular place whether it be a leather chair in the house or in a garden chair in the backyard. The place invites me to become silent.
My attention is present because my heart – or what could be called intention – are awakened. I feel an interest and a need to reveal to myself, as I once shared with my mother, my honest feelings, thoughts and attitudes and understandings about the external and internal world I inhabit. In the same way, in meditation, there is an honest outpouring.
My mother’s quiet, loving presence
In the past, my mother received my outpouring in her quiet, loving presence. In meditation what I express is received, taken into stillness. The outpouring of my soul waits in the silence of being. The full expression of my heart is held in that stillness.
The silent state invites a spontaneous listening with the heart, as my mother once listened to me. A loving intention is found within and behind the words that arise within me. From the process of an outpouring of my heart, being held in the quiet or silence of my soul, a new or different awareness arises. For me, meditating teaches me how to listen with heart.
I am no longer in the kitchen talking with my mother. But I often feel like I am sharing what is deepest and most sincere within me with a metaphorical mother. That metaphorical mother is given many different names – a verbal symbol for what is hard to put into words– Mother Earth, Holy Mother, Divine Mother, Universal Presence. Regardless of what name, my experience as I meditate is being listened to with heart.
A Cherished Place
For a few weeks in the summer as often as possible, I drive to spend time at the ocean. This is no small feat. We live in the Midwest. The drive to the East coast takes 2 days, about 10 hours each day. I drive by myself on the way there, and am joined later by my husband. We do the return drive home together.
This little bit of information may convey the intensity of my motivation to spend time at the Atlantic Ocean. For me, the ocean is a source of revelation and to me my relationship with the Ocean feels like a unique friendship. A friendship with an entity so much larger than I and with an inherent wisdom. I experience the Ocean as a living entity who receives what is deepest in my soul. My heart listens to the wisdom of the ocean.
I Listen with the Heart
Before the endlessness of the ocean, I shrink to the truth of being only as big as a dot of a pencil in a vast universe. When I return from my time at the ocean, I have often been asked ‘what do you do?’ when you are there. People say ‘I think I would get bored.’ That has not been my experience. In answer to those asking for an explanation I tell them I walk for miles, I stare out at the ocean, I take in, I receive, I write, I listen with heart.
Over the years at the ocean, I’ve developed a habit of buying a journal for writing as soon as I arrive. I have filled countless journals with page after page, line after line of what I call “thought poems.” My journals fill one shelf of a bookcase. I am not a trained writer so I am not sure what I write can be classified as poems, but they are words that arise when I listen with heart to myself and to the ocean.
Generally, I keep my thought-poems to myself. My words reflect my truest inner voice. I do not share them readily. But as I worked on this blog, I thought that maybe a thought-poem might help convey what I want to communicate about listening with heart.
Looking Into the Face of the Divine
at the Ocean
mesmerized with amazement
caught and anchored in wonder.
at the Ocean
sinking into sand.
I don’t want to be anywhere
I look out at the Ocean
into the face of the Divine.
casts her light upon me.
The light of the Divine
Dancing across the indigo waters
of the ocean
The pounding surge of the Ocean’s waves
than life itself.
Pounding surge of the Ocean’s waves
knock me down
carry me out
throw me deep and far
return me to shore
as the nothingness I am.
I look out at the Ocean
Into the face of the Divine.
return of waves
rolling in and away.
As I stand
Drawn into a meditative state
habitual thought replaced
by the voice within my heart.
The Voice within my Heart
The ocean is a special place that has great meaning. We travel there in the summer. We do not live there. What I discover when I listen with heart at the ocean remains with me beyond that time and that place. No matter where I am or what I am doing I want to listen with heart, that is, listen not only with my sense of hearing but to attend to relationships, responsibilities, daily tasks, with a caring and loving intention. I meditate for a designated amount of time, typically about ½ hour. I don’t meditate all day long. However, throughout the day I can live with an intention to live and to listen with heart. A simple way to say that is to live with love.
About the Author(s)
Allegra Magrisso is a social worker, therapist, long time meditator, mother and grandmother.