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To Know Is Everything,
... to be heard is everything else.

“Ah,” said the mystic, “you are a true romantic with tendencies for drama. Your biggest challenge is sleeping peacefully, and you have difficulty absorbing iron.”

Wow! How did you know that?

Like a small child who thinks he can hide by covering his eyes, we assume that our unspoken thoughts are private. Well, it’s time to “peek-a-boo!” If we actually needed to articulate all communication, our relationships would be dry experiences, indeed. Just think of the oodles of data transmitted by a blush, a wink, clothing choices and idiosyncratic behaviors. Tone of voice, body temperature and posture are infinitely more honest than the words we scramble to say.

While attending the Ohashi Institute nearly 20 years ago, an outrageous assertion was presented. Supposedly, each of us is able to consciously process a mere 7% of current stimulus. The sounds, images, sensations, smells and flavors comprising our sensory intake are selectively interpreted and filtered by our unconscious listening patterns. How authentic is personal reality when we receive so little of the entire picture?

Within the complex system of Eastern diagnosis, there are four methods of conscious listening. Mon Shin, inviting verbal responses to questions, is most familiar to Westerners. An individual describes an ailment using language, and the practitioner considers the conscious level of the malady. Bun Shin, deciphering qualities of voice and nuances of smell, offers clues to less conscious aspects of the same experience. The individual may be trembling, singing or crying beneath the words, for example. Bo Shin, observing the body’s poetry, reveals even more unconscious information. “How much space is between your eyebrows, and what does it say about you?” Setsu Shin, touching like a knife, enables the hands to interpret subtle, energetic activity beyond the conspicuous texture of body tissue.

The most challenging part of refining these diagnostic skills is listening with emptiness. The more we can eliminate judgments, expectations and predispositions, the more able we are to receive the essence of a message. Western psychology requires a therapist to become a blank slate upon which a patient projects his dilemmas. This enables the patient to eventually listen to himself, albeit bouncing off that screen.

As we personally interact, we project as well as mirror projections. What we hear is often our own message returning. This is especially easy to experience in arguments. When an outlook differs from our own, we tend to get louder. Are we trying to create understanding or to hear our own views validated?

“I’m a giver. I don’t like to take.” Receiving issues are generally interpreted as the inability to say, “Yes,” to an offering. Because we can control what we give, what appears to be generosity may have other levels of intention. However, we can’t control what comes; hence receiving requires trust .

Rejecting another’s message is a defensive reaction. Early imprints create an irrational fear of conflict. The more invested we are in our beliefs, the more our integrity demands we hold them unwaveringly. On mental and emotional levels, listening has a lot to do with receiving.

An important realization is that understanding does not require agreement. Differing points of view can coexist without threatening personal belief. Dr. Thomas Gordon articulates the process of active listening in a series of books beginning with P.E.T (Parent Effectiveness Training). The general premise respects the urgency accompanying a message. The urgency is addressed with a uncharged statement functioning as a blank screen:

“I understand that this is important to you, and I want to know your thoughts.”

There is an invitation to share without a contract to agree. Creating this premise for objectivity erases the threat of judgment and the dread of surrender. Integrity remains in tact for both parties. Clarifying the message is equally objective:

“What you’re saying is, ... “

When the message is received, the giver tends to say, “Yes, exactly.” The defensiveness has been eliminated, and the interaction has a clean foundation for continued exchange. Person to person, richer interaction becomes possible.

Imagine the global implications of active listening. Cultural differences could coexist without threat of agreement or surrender. In a conscious world, militia would be armed with multi-lingual, interactive training and active listening manuals in their kits.

A child beams as he hands his mother a crayon drawing. Mom hears the pride in his voice, “I made this for you! Can you tell what it is?” ‘How beautiful!’ she exclaims. Although she doesn’t recognize the super hero, “I see someone good and strong and helping the whole world.” In this reception they each hear love.

“So,” said the mystic, “you long to empty your mind so you can truly hear the magic of another soul’s journey.”

Recommended Readings:
Reading the Body by Ohashi
P.E.T., T.E.T, or L.E.T. by Thomas Gordon

by Toni Zuper
Alternative Healing
Center City, Philadelphia

published in Yoga Living -- January 2005 issue