Are you listening?

"Deva Listening to Dhamma" (see below* for information about this photo)

Are some people not capable of listening to soul?

This question came up briefly in my last post. Well, actually, the question was whether some people aren’t capable of feeling alive. But I am expanding the question here today because there is a difference between feeling alive and listening to your feelings of aliveness (the topic of this blog).

Listening to something means both hearing and heeding it. Following its guidance. So listening to soul means not just being aware of your inner stirrings but also expressing and honoring them in some way, making them more explicit. Self-awareness with some type of response. Being and Doing. Let’s talk about these briefly, just enough to get a basic feel for what they’re about.

Self-awareness grows from repeatedly turning your attention inward and asking, “What am I experiencing now?” Returning again and again to notice what is happening inside you and then scooching over a bit mentally to make space for whatever you find. This repeated, patient, curious attention – much like you would give to a small child you love – allows you to gradually notice and take in more and more of your inner experience without shrinking from it or drowning in it.

Reciprocal with noticing your inner experience is acknowledgment and expression. Each feeds the other. For example, you become aware that you feel a subtle but excited interest in something new and different, you express it to someone, you notice you feel even more excited about it, and you decide to research it or check into it. Or it might be an entirely internal process where you feel a particular emotion, acknowledge fully to yourself that you’re feeling it, notice its fluctuations for a few days, and ask yourself how it feels to have that ongoing awareness, perhaps even gaining some insight from it. These are rather simple examples. But I hope they convey the sense of an upward spiral of experience that is gradually fed by noticing and responding to your aliveness and natural energy. To me, when I read these examples and really imagine the experience, I feel a low resonance, a hum of excitement and inner energy.

Do you feel that?

I think that feeling is the immediacy of the present moment, starkly and insistently alive, as described by Rollo May, a PhD and psychoanalyst:

“To confront the reality of the present moment often produces anxiety. On the most basic level, this anxiety is a kind of a vague experience of being ‘naked’; it is the feeling of being face to face with some important reality before which one cannot flinch and from which one cannot retreat or hide. It is like the feeling one might have in coming suddenly face to face with a person one loved and admired: one is confronted with an intense relationship one must react to, do something about. It is an intensity of experience, this immediate and direct confronting of the reality of the moment, similar to intense creative activity, and it carries with it the same nakedness and creative anxiety as well as the same joy” (Man’s Search for Himself, p. 267).

Now to the question we have posed: Is this experience – listening to your core self – impossible for some people to achieve or sustain? It requires certain qualities, not just the ability to self-reflect and discern, but an ongoing sense of purpose, inquisitiveness, and courage. A willingness to listen and keep listening, a willingness to act and keep taking action. Simple but not.

I think that a large number of people have the capacity to listen but aren’t. And I believe others are less clear with a small number possibly not having this capacity. This makes me wonder: where does the latent possibility of listening lie? And how might it be different than you or I would expect?

Here we arrive at, I think, the more exciting question, the real question, in this whole discussion:

Are you listening to your aliveness?

Because if you are, you will be more open to and patient with others’ experiences of being alive.

You will know that striving to listen to your inner world is challenging, that it always brings surprises, that there are more ways soul can be expressed in an individual’s life than there are individuals.

You’ll be less likely to project your own lack of listening onto others, expecting them to do it or assuming they can’t or condemning them in some way, when it’s really your own aliveness that needs tending and attention.

So more important and more impactful than whether someone else is listening or can listen is whether you are. Not just because doing so awakens yourself. But because, as a result, you are able to step back and make space for others to find their own way too.

So…are you listening? What happens when you do? And do you make space for others to do so?

© Amanda Norcross and Learning to Listen to Soul, 2011.

*The photograph I have included with this post is titled, “Deva Listening to Dhamma.” (It is from Wikipedia and is by Anandajoti (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.) The carving in the picture is one of thousands at Borodur, an 8th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in Indonesia. The figure pictured is a deva: any supernatural being in Buddhism who is “more powerful or more blissful than humans” (according to Wikipedia). And dhamma is the essential quality of the cosmos or of one’s own nature (a simple definition that seems consistent with the longer Wikipedia description). So, in short, the picture shows a supernatural being listening to the essence of the cosmos and herself – a striking image of listening to soul, even haunting as it resonates for me (and maybe you?) here, now, 1,300 years later.

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