Listening Is Applied Meditation

Sitting with my eyes closed and trying to focus on my breathing is an opportunity for me to practice acceptance, because I will become distracted. Whenever I realize I’ve become distracted, I bring my attention back to my breathing. I used to give myself a hard time whenever this would happen – I would judge myself pretty harshly for being unable to maintain my concentration on my breath. These days I realize that catching myself when I’ve become distracted is a success – to know that I’ve become distracted is to become aware of myself. I can’t know that I’m distracted while I’m distracted. So that very moment of realizing “Oh! I’m thinking about groceries again!” is the moment that I stopped thinking about groceries, and became aware of myself. And that is success. Not only did I become aware, but I was also able to accept reality without being harsh toward myself. Just noting that I was distracted, and bringing my attention back, that’s all. As I do this again and again, focusing on my breath and waking up to realize I’ve become distracted and bringing my awareness back to my breath without judging myself, I am practicing acceptance.

When someone I care for is sharing his pain with me, it is very tempting to immediately start giving advice, or telling him that everything will be okay, or talking about myself and how I went through a similar experience. But what the other person really needs is for me to listen, to listen very well and very deeply, to focus on their experience without distraction. But of course I become distracted. I think about the advice I want to give, or about the similar experiences I’ve had, or about groceries. And as I realize I’ve become distracted, I bring my awareness back to the person I’m listening to. I try not to spend time judging myself for becoming distracted, because that would distract me from listening to the other person. So as soon as I realize I’ve become distracted, I bring my awareness back to the person I’m listening to, and continue listening.

Deep listening is not just “like” meditation. It is absolutely a form of meditation, a time to practice acceptance of reality: My imperfect ability to consistently focus on anything at all, and my growing ability to accept this fact and bringing my awareness back to the object of my attention – my breath, my friend.

TRY THIS: Next time you are talking with a loved one and realize you got distracted, use one cleansing breath to refocus. Breathe in, and with your exhalation let the distraction float away as you refocus on your speaker.