The first responsibility of love is to listen

Themes in my yoga classes are often influenced by podcasts that I listen to. One of my favorites is from Tara Brach, a Buddhist teacher combining Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practice. She founded the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC and has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

I listened to a podcast where Tara was presenting a teaching titled, “Listening to the Song.” It was an appropriate theme for this year’s Valentine season and the message grew so large for me that I continue to excerpt ideas from what she shared.

The full version of Tara Brach’s talk “Listening to the Song” is on her website and can be played as audio or video.

Here are the “Cliff Notes” from her discussion:

  • Paul Tillich quote, “The first responsibility of love is to listen.”
  • Mark Nepo quote, “To listen is to lean in softly with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.”ChineseCharacterToListen
  • The Chinese characters that make up the phrase “to listen” include symbols for ear, eyes, undivided attention and heart.

Three energetic conditionings that keep us from listening:
1. Wanting – approval, control, someone or something else, having an agenda
2. Self Protection – need to appear a certain way to others (right, smart, etc.)
3. Inattention – being distracted or “blanking out” when none of our particular wants or fears are being addressed

Gateways to listening:
1. Opening your senses
2. Awakening with undivided attention
3. Invoking a tenderness of heart

The whole discussion combined an approach similar to how and why we practice yoga. We set an intention, we practice, we become very still and listen to our own reaction within our bodies and within our hearts. Listening to ourselves and listening to others is a similar exercise needing no less than 10,000 hours to gain competence.

Tara does not lead us into the final yoga posture of “savasana” near the end of her talk but it would have been wonderful if she would have asked the audience to come into the corpse pose and be still while she red the poem “Lost” by David Wagoner. For it is in our stillness that we find ourselves “here” and bring ourselves in the present moment, listening to the forest that has made a place around us. Now, if we can only let it find us!

by David Wagoner
from Collected Poems 1956-1976 © Indiana University Press.

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.