In my monologue class the other day, my teacher said something that surprised me: “In order to be a great actress, you need to become a good listener.” When I heard that, my eyes lit up. Although I already knew it was important to be a good listener in general, I had never thought about the importance of listening on stage. My teacher’s comment pushed me to think more deeply about listening. I started to wonder: What does it mean to be a good listener?
At the last yoga teacher training that I led, we did a practice in which one person spoke and the other listened; then, the listener had to repeat what they had just heard. What I wanted to achieve in this practice was to develop a good sense of knowing how to “read between the lines.” It’s like when you read the Bhagavad Gita for the first time. Initially, the text reads like the tale of a war or battle. But, as you go deeper into the story, you realize that it might also represent an internal conflict, such as the search for G-d, the need for liberation and self-realization.
Behind the words is where the heart lies. That’s where you get to connect to another human being on a whole different level. For me, that is how my well gets filled — by really seeing people and learning about them. The way to really see and learn about people is by learning how to listen, and seeing and learning about people is a key to finding real meaning behind this life.
When you start to listen, you begin to hear not only the words, but also the texture of the words and the breath behind the words — the emotion and the story that is waiting to unfold. My new practice is to start answering directly to what I hear “behind the words” instead of what another person is saying on the surface. I don’t have to go far to do this practice. I can start right at home with my three boys. The other day, before getting mad at my son for something he’d said — which is my instinct to do — I paused and took a deep breath. I asked myself, What is really going on here? I stated to my son what I really saw going on, and then I asked him if I was correct. My son’s frown completely melted into a smile. The moment became one in which we were able to connect “behind the words” and “between the lines.”
It is in moments like this that we start to really live; they are what stay with us and connect us. Instead of a tangled kind of conversation, or one that is manipulative, we should learn to converse in a soft, loving way. This practice will help us attain a richer and more spacious life, a life of wisdom that will awaken our souls. I realized that, if I can become sensitive and attentive in real life, then I can also learn to listen on stage; the skills are not so different from one another.
I really believe that that is where G-d resides, not in the place where you go to pray, but at home. G-d resides in the giving of your attentive, precious time to another person. When we listen as if we are completely there for the other person, we connect with the ongoing pulsation of the universe.
The art of listening to others is similar to reading and beginning to understand the Scriptures. The more you study the Scriptures, the more you can dive into the meaning of them. The stories that were told have layers of meaning. How deeply we can dive into them depends on the teacher and the readiness of the student. The way to become a good listener is by not taking anything too personally. Being detached helps you really hear the other person, not your self or your projections. It’s like my friend said to me, “I was in the same place 10 years ago, but I didn’t hear a word this teacher said. Now I am ready to hear.”
This is the art of listening, welcome home.
Peace and Love,
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
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This article was originally posted on Huffington Post. To read it there, please follow this link.