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Mon, May 07 2012

The Delicate Art of Listening

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“Close your eyes,” my yoga teacher says. “Don’t open them again for the next 90 minutes.”

We laugh a little, like, Is she serious?

Then she says, “I’m serious. Don’t open your eyes.”

So here we go: sun salutations, lunges, warriors, balancing postures, crow pose, taking our mats to a wall and practicing handstand, returning our mats to where they were (who knew?) and continuing our flow right down into savasana. Eyes closed.

It’s amazing how much you can see when you close your eyes. I realized how self-conscious I can be when I’m practicing yoga, and how liberating it felt to be able to fall on my face in crow pose and not worry about who was looking. I also really, really associate the ability to see with the ability to control.

When I can see out in front of me, I think I know where I’m going. In the English language, we talk about the past as being physically behind us, and the future as being physically in front. When I can see ahead, I can plan and shape my future. The past is easier to ignore because I’m not looking at it; it’s behind me. Eyes open, the present is easy to escape because you are focused on what’s over there rather than what’s right here.

Listening, on the other hand, is a totally different experience. Sound is a vibration that enters into our ears and stimulates the tiny little structures of the ear that the brain then translates. When you close your eyes, you can experience hearing not only as a sound, but also as a physical vibration in your body.

Seeing is a single directed action. The focal point in each eye is very small; everything except what you are directly looking at is pretty blurry. Seeing is a practice of projecting out onto the external world, while listening is a practice of receiving.

Listening is associated with the throat chakra, in yoga philosophy, and the element of the throat chakra is space. I’ve been practicing a kind of listening lately that involves a lot less talking, and a lot more shutting up. When someone comes to you and wants to talk, sometimes all they need is the space to express what’s on their mind, not your many brilliant solutions for solving all their problems. I’m not particularly good at this yet—my childhood nickname at the dinner table was the Great Interrupter—but it’s fascinating to talk less and listen more. It’s amazing how much more often you hear things like, “I’ve never told anyone this before but...”

We live in a culture that is very visual, and also very future-driven. We focus so much on what will happen next, that we barely give ourselves a chance to process what happened in the past.

Letting go isn’t the same thing as forgetting. When we truly let go, we stop resisting what we feel, and we give the past the space to speak. When we’ve allowed the past to speak, we can get unstuck and enter into the present. Closing our eyes doesn’t mean shutting out the world; it can mean letting it in.

Closing our eyes is one way of really seeing.

JC Peters's picture

Join yoga teacher JC Peters on a thoughtful, personal, hopeful exploration into the real life of yoga—how the philosophies and experiences of the practice can help us laugh at ourselves, deal with our deepest shadows, and move through life with grace, gratitude, and wonder.

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