Master The Art of Listening

Part 2: Listening To Our Thoughts


Previously we discussed what is listening, what are the stages of listening and how to listen. We discussed that true listening happens when there is no distortion by conditioning. And we saw how we can do that: by dropping this thought— “I know”. 

Today, let’s dive deeper and see how listening can unravel ourselves to us!

Here is Part 1.

Listening To Our Thoughts

When we turn out attention inward and ‘listen out’ our thoughts, it can reveal almost everything about ourselves. We are made by thoughts. What we repeatedly think, that is what we become. In The Dhammapada, we see how the Buddha articulated this same thing—

"All that we are is the result of what we have thought: we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfish thoughts cause misery when they speak or act. Sorrows roll over them as the wheels of a cart roll over the tracks of the bullock that draws it." (Eknath Easwaran's translation)

Our minds are like chattering birds, never silent. All the time it talks. In a single day, a human brain generates almost 60,000 thoughts. In a day, we only have 86,400 seconds. If every thought just takes even one second on an average, we are left with 26,400 seconds, that is, an odd 7.33 hours. And guess what, this is the average time we sleep. So, practically, all our waking hours we are occupied in our heads! 

By the way, what is a thought? I have discussed on ‘thought’ in my post titled Understanding The Mind. Do check it if you wish to understand it in detail. 

To say briefly, thoughts are mental representations of sound and image. Any thought, basically, is either a sound impression or a mental image. If we pay attention to our thoughts—what we think, why we think what we think and what thought does to us—we’ll learn infinitely more about ourselves than listening to others or by reading books. 

One who is serious about Self-understanding must learn to listen to thoughts. The thinker in us and the thoughts are the same. So, if we understand our thoughts, we’ll understand the entity that ‘thinks’—that is ‘I’, the ‘Me’! This is how Self-understanding begins. 

How to Listen to Our Thoughts? 

We don’t need to do any special meditation for this. We just need to be aware of what is going in our minds. We don’t even need separate time to observe this. We can observe our thoughts anytime, anywhere. At any given moment, we just need to ask ourselves two questions—

Q.1 What am I thinking right now? 

Q.2 Why am I thinking what I am thinking? 

The first question reveals the content of our thoughts. The second question reveals the motive behind them. To think about what we’re thinking, thus, is called metacognition. As we question even our motives, we begin to have insights—short glimpses of our nature. This is the actual meditation, if not the only one. To do any form of meditation, this is the beginning. This is the starting point—level 1.

We can do many things with our thoughts—we can analyse them, persue them, or just witness them and let them pass. We can even choose to stay with one thought alone. This is what japa or any concentrative meditation is. Depending upon what we do with our thoughts, different insights are gleaned. All of them are helpful. But we must learn to pay attention to our minds. Our attention is always outward-bound. It would not be wrong to say that the world has captured our attention outside. And energy flows where attention goes! You know this, right? If the attention—which is actually the energy to attend—is turned inward and applied to our minds, this very energy will shed light on the hidden recesses of our minds. In that light, we will see ourselves for what we truly are. 

The Secret Route

This turning of the attention inward is the beginning of self-discovery. As we turn our attention inward, we start to see a different wod altogether—a world made up of thought-stuff: emotions, feelings, images, ideas, desires, fears, instincts, tendencies, samskaras, and a load of memory! This inner world is like a dark and dense jungle, unknown to us, and almost seems mysterious to us. And to step into this jungle is nothing short of a daring act. You have to face your inner demons there, always lurking behind, ready to pounce on you with their ferocious smile and sharp nails. 

If you want to traverse this jungle-world, you have to know the secret route…through which you can be free of this jungle-game.

Should I reveal it to you? It’s always better and desirable that one discovers that route by oneself, but then what are guides for? Let me be your guide here, to safely help you navigate this brutal and uncharted territory. 

There is a gap between two thoughts. As one thought disappears and another thought creeps up, there is a very subtle interval, when there is no thought, no image, no processes are going on. This is the secret route! 

A very narrow route this is. When you become intensely alert, that route opens, but to sustain it is the challenge. Here comes the role of your sadhana. At first it seems there is no route, and we’re eternally trapped inside this jungle. But the torch is missing… that’s why you are not seeing the way out. That torch is your awareness. And the intensity of it is the battery. More intense your awareness is, the better the visibility, and therefore, confidence to walk through this jungle. 

Therefore, be aware. Be aware of the whole movement of mind. Find that gap. When you find it, hold onto it with your intensity. Be intense. The more you stay there, the quicker the mental world—made up by thought-stuff—crumbles, and once you can stay there comfortably, you will achieve the state of freedom. You will eventually be free of this jungle. 

Only after this mental world is transcended, do our real nature get reflected in our awareness, which is beyond our thoughts. 

Last Words

This is the power of listening. For few days you listen. Then you start to see. Listening transforms into seeing. A time comes when seeing transforms into being, and when being is perfectly established, you are at the door of freedom. 

May all realise their true self. May all be free and abide in their beautiful light! 

Jai Shri Hari! 

Love, Alok.

Image Credit: iStock