Hearing is passive but listening is active, as I am using the words here.
Hearing is a sense organ whose function is to alert us to dangers in our environment. It is always on, except of course when we are asleep and all the senses have shut down. Active listening is necessary for inner hearing.
Listening, on the other hand requires our active attention and anything that interferes with our attention interferes with our capacity to listen. How often have you sat through a talk or lecture only to notice later that you weren’t present for it. The attention was elsewhere.
Usually when we see writing about the topic of listening it’s focus is on listening as an element of communication with others. Are you a good listener? Do you respond appropriately to the other? Such questions are the issue at hand.
But, what I am trying to draw attention to here is the matter of listening to yourself, engaging with yourself and responding to yourself. You could say it is not listening with the ears so much as engaging intellectually with yourself. This kind of listening is just as appropriate when reading as when listening to a talk or watching a film. I am trying to get at the idea of how you engage with yourself. This might be a strange idea for some, assuming that engagement with ourselves is as automatic as hearing. But, it is not.
You may have fallen into a habit of not engaging with yourself or simply learned to suppress it as a child.
But, everyone can learn the art of self engagement and this art is the core of spiritual self-inquiry.
Spiritual work and progress are all about engagement with yourself. It’s about learning to communicate with yourself in an authentic way.
Active listening in this sense is about hearing, reading, understanding something new and then checking to see how that sits or fits in with what you already understand, believe or assume.
Are you going to dismiss this new idea because it does not fit in with what you already believe or because it is not immediately obvious to you what the significance of this new idea is?
Are you available to yourself, to have this inner dialogue?
Just as in daily life there are well known distractions to being able to listen: emotional stress, tiredness, distractions, psychological issues, busyness, lack of interest, to name a few.
In order to be available to engage with yourself you have to clear a space for yourself to do this.
Probably the main reasons that many never engage with themselves include: they are just too busy living daily life and they do not know how important it is to make time to engage with themselves.
It is not so much that self-engagement takes up a lot of time but that not knowing how important it is, many simply overlook it.
Your relationship with yourself is more important that any other relationship you could ever have. You are the only one who can live your life.
Taking yourself seriously is more an attitude that anything else because you can do it right in the midst of daily life without being in any way neglectful of your duties or becoming selfish.
Just as in daily communication, personal opinions are a hindrance to active listening, that is unless you are open to examining those opinions, in light of the new idea you have heard.
Active listening is really the dialogue between the new idea and what ideas you already hold. It’s about being willing to have your opinions and beliefs challenged by a new idea. You can’t predict how the conversations will play out but you are willing to let it take you where it takes you.
It may well be that the opinion or understanding you already held stands up to the challenge of the new idea or it may become modified in some way.
Listening in this sense is the active process of making meaning from what’s new and what’s old in the present.
This is the essence of being alive. It involves change. The change here is within yourself. It is the change of living in the present as opposed to living from the past in yourself. It is a process of renewal and revitalisation.
So, we could sum up what active listening amounts to as: it is the process of understanding a new idea, engaging that idea with what you already know or understand or think and allowing a new understanding to arise from it.
This is the process of inner transformation. If the new ideas you expose yourself to are from the time tested traditions of the Perennial Wisdom, and you assimilate their meaning, a transformation will take place in you will be in the direction of spiritual progress. You will move in the direction of knowing and becoming yourself in a profound way.