Latest post:

When listening, just listen!
February 19th, 2014

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

When listening, just listen!

When listening to someone, it seems a good idea to try and understand what they say. It seems a good idea, but it's not. It's actually just ignorant karma.

Karma is tendency, habit… i.e. a predefined, pre-conceived, prejudiced answer rather than a response appropriate to the context at hand.

When you try to understand,  what you're really trying to do is to box what is said into well-defined, well-understood little concepts.
What you're really trying to do is get control over  what is 'meant', so that it becomes manageable, so that it becomes safe for you (because you then 'know' what to do, according to some rulebook, based on previous experience —self-appropriated habit— or hearsay —habit appropriated/inherited from others).
When you try to understand, you're usually just trying to be safe, to protect your self from the unknown, from the uncomfortable anguish and anxiety when facing uncertainty, from the reminder that you're mortal or even simply impermanent.

When you try to understand, you're trying to confirm that what you 'knew' remains valid, adequate, useful (i.e. what you 'know' is so repeatedly true that it's undistinguishable from permanently true…).

When you try to understand, you're maintaining either the view that the delusions of the other person are not truly your concern (they'll remain separate from you), or the view that their wisdom (currently separate) can be appropriated and made yours… In any case, you're perpetuating a separation between you and them; you're perpetuating an "identity view" first and foremost, rather than listening!

It is quite easily observed that many women want to talk through their experiences, difficulties, 'problems'… without necessarily wanting men to offer a solution.
Both genders have appropriated stereotypes by education, stereotypes which don't particularly help their communication.

When a solution is suggested (« why don't you just … ? »), women might get irate and complain that all they wanted was to be listened to. The acceptance of the status quo  is, by biased education, usually perceived as a 'safe' option. However, the acceptance of the status quo  is saṃsāra, is the perpetuation (by lack of challenge, i.e. apathy) of what is unsatisfactory.
Of course, "just listening" is important but might not be enough a wholesome contribution to change the world as required by the situation. One should not presume that « all this person needs is an available shoulder to cry upon. » Quite often, a bit of advice (getting people out of self-obsessed narratives) might be needed too, even when not so pleasant to hear.

When women complain that all they wanted was to be listened to, men tend not to make sense of such criticism and to get annoyed (and close down rather than open up…). At its worst, men are plain delusional, buying into the "knight in his shinning armour" narrative! At its best, it remains a fact that offering a solution is a pretence to control the world, a pretence that re-arranging the conditions at hand will be enough to alleviate dissatisfaction… This belief that suffering is primarily tied to conditions and circumstances being mis-configured, that a bit of tweaking to make them right is all that is needed to cease suffering, is saṃsāra.

"Just listening" is the only way to respond appropriately, without preserving the self and without preserving the status quo (which sounds different but is just the same: the self preserving what it considers true).

"Just listening" is beyond "making sense", but it is not a withdrawal from engagement, nor does it prevent a response from arising (just like "beyond words" in Zen doesn't mean "without words", 'beyond' making sense is not 'without' sense…).

"Just listening" is just listening in that  moment! The next moment, it may no longer be time to listen, but time to respond…

"Just listening" is listening without anticipating a response, without even prejudging that a response will be required, without wanting to offer something, without clinging to "being useful", without wanting to protect one's self-interest, or status quo,  or comfort born from 'understanding'…

"Just listening" is listening without lust nor aversion, is listening because it's appropriate to do so in that moment… but without presuming that listening should become 'habitual', without presuming that listening one moment implies listening the next moment…

"Just listening" is just listening, not "making sense."

The "making sense" might well be the appropriate thing to do the next instant… but you cannot make sense of what you've barely listened to (because you were already projecting concepts, notions, memories, rules, social conventions while pretending to listen).

So when you listen to someone, or to the world, just listen!

I once was asked about mind-reading abilities that some experienced meditators seem to get. These abilities tend to be indiscernible from mind-reading, but they're not a naïve understanding of it.
The mind is co-dependently arising with the world, it is not separate and so, by listening the world, you can 'hear' the mind… Not just 'your' mind, but also the mind of 'others' in the frame… But to do so, you need to listen to the world, to all that is in front of you, you need to be mindful of other's feelings, not just of your own…
Obsessing about "making sense" is forcing all reality to fit into your conventional truths and common sense. Insights —if anything— are understandings which steer away from "common sense" (and, often, away from self-centredness too).

"Just listening" is not listening to words only… It is "listening to the available sense" instead of "making sense"! It is in "listening to the available wisdom and the available resources" instead of prejudging an answer or assuming that you 'know' what's going on.

photo: © +Peter Cunningham 
[ from the book "Are we there yet?" (, or to buy as a print at ]