The Spiritual Impact of Real Relating
Stephen Covey once said, “The deepest hunger of the human heart is to feel understood.” This quote strikes a chord for many of us because we long to connect and be seen and heard. The reasons for this are spiritual. Attention, the most elemental and essential gift that a human can offer another, is perhaps the most life-enhancing gift for both the giver and the receiver. Listening is critical on your path to awakening.
Attention – the giver of life
There have been a few experiments that have proven that attention is crucial to human life. You may have heard of the shocking research that Rene Spitz conducted in 1944 with 40 infants. The scientist observed 20 infants in a sterile hospital environment. The hospital assistants fed, bathed, and changed the babies, but only gave them the amount of attention needed to meet their fundamental needs. The rest of the time, they were utterly deprived of focussed awareness by the assistants. The other sterile location was a women’s prison where helpers took care of the babies by feeding, changing, and bathing them, but they also took them to their mothers twice a day. The mothers gave them the attention that a mother normally would.
Within four months, the experiment came to an abrupt end because half of the babies in the case study had died with no explainable cause of death. Although they were all physically healthy, they stopped showing facial expressions, being responsive and passed away. Two more babies were reportedly taken to a healthy environment but also died soon after the experiment. The rest who survived, ostensibly suffered severe mental and developmental issues.
The inhumane treatment and heartbreaking outcomes of this experiment contain what I believe to be an essential message. This research tells us what we innately know. Conscious attention, which is the same as love, is an integral part of one’s development.
Perhaps there have been numerous theories about how the children died, but the simple fact is that they all died from lack of attention. Since awareness is another way to say spirit, you could also say that they died from a lack of spiritual connection.
Listening – how consciousness knows itself
The body is a vehicle for consciousness. Most people hold the materialist view that a human is a body and a mind, and consciousness appears within it, for some inexplicable reason. Awareness is the field in which the body/mind appears. Deeper than the mental noise, it is what we all share. Knowing this is love.
Awareness at the beginning of human life is rudimentary, and its trajectory is to become more sophisticated as it comes to know itself through the human form. The only way that it can do this is to connect with awareness as it expresses itself in other forms. In the case of the “withholding affection experiment,” consciousness was beginning to know who it was by looking out and connecting to itself in other forms. Awareness, which gives life to the body, wasn’t supported, so it went back to its source. This is what I see as the explanation for the seemingly mysterious physical death of the infants.
More than we need nutrition for the body, we require spiritual nourishment. Attention needs to connect with itself in another form to know who it is and to evolve. The same awareness, which is the source and the substance of all, is in all forms throughout the universe. Through the human being, consciousness has evolved enough to reflect on itself.
Awareness knowing itself is the experience of peace and joy. When you recognize the same consciousness in the other, it is love. When you listen as consciousness, rather than through mind chatter, it is life-affirming rather than life-denying. Attention, awareness, and being present with others is mediation in action.
I can understand if I sound like I am over spiritualizing listening, but I promise you I am not. We are programmed only to see the material side of life – we must understand the profound in the mundane to wake up.
Real listening is giving full attention to someone. The more awareness, the less mind chatter, or you could say the more presence, the less ego. When you connect with others on the level of awareness, free from mind, you connect your true nature with the true nature of the other. A lot of ego dissolves on this level, which is why the interactions seem enjoyable, fruitful, or even loving. You will indeed see, as you practice, people will respond favorably to you for recognizing who they are through authentic listening.
Listening is a state of being
Think about the times when you have felt most “at home.” Wasn’t it when you were connecting with the world around you and allowing it to be? You may love doing things such as walking in nature, sitting on a beach, playing with your pets, gardening, or swimming. A significant reason for this is the natural world won’t challenge your ideas about who you think you are, and you rarely want anything from it. You could say that there is less me and more connecting in these situations. Your relationship is simply being with what is. You feel good during these activities because you allow yourself to take in what is around you without trying to change it in any way. Using this same way of “allowing” and “being” with what is, is how you can learn to listen and relate to other humans. If you want your relationships to flourish, there must be allowing and being within them, rather than two egos interacting.
Whether this is a stranger, a client, a loved one, a tree, or a bird, it is the same connection. When we let go of the mind’s need to control, you experience pure knowingness. This formlessness is what you are, what is looking back at you, and is the essence of everything that you see. Spiritual growth ultimately happens on this level, deeper than thoughts and words. That is why it is said that silence is the highest spiritual teaching, because spirit, beyond the mind is what is awakening through you.
Our habitual patterns of not listening
The typical way of having a conversation with someone is to listen with a self-serving agenda. It is ubiquitous for people only to hear enough to respond in a way that will give us what we think we want from the other. It is the typical way that we are entirely absorbed in the mind chatter.
In business, it may be that we want some sort of financial gain or to establish power. In dealing with customer service, we may just want the cup of coffee, or the groceries checked out as quickly as possible. If it is social interaction, often, our primary focus is to get people to be impressed with us. We are thinking about what to say rather than being present and truly relating to them. In all of these “normal” ways that we listen, they are self-focused and have a personal agenda. Our lack of being present and attentive with the other is not because we are bad people but because when we are “spiritually asleep,” we feel that we lack something and need it from the other person.
It is a vicious cycle. The mind is resisting the present moment because it unconsciously emphasizes a mind-made sense of self. The more it does this, the more separate it feels, and therefore, the more it experiences a sense of lack. Being stuck in the ego cycle will impede our growth, and we will get back what we give to the world.
The need to argue
Relationships ruin, and wars begin from being attached to a fixed point of view. It is imperative to see that nothing other than a human mind believes that there is a “wrong” perspective.
Ideas ultimately do not change the world; it is the state of consciousness from which the thoughts come that change the world. The question is, “are you listening to the mind chatter that causes fear, or are we connecting from love?” Another helpful question to ask yourself is, “Is there suffering or ease in my interactions?” Fear and suffering are often a reflection that you are interacting with others predominantly through the mind. If there is love, joy, and ease, there is probably genuine listening and presence in your relationships.
In regards to religion; An awakened person who walked the earth so many millennia ago may have taught people how to know the truth of love and oneness. Rather than doing the work to wake up, people often adopt a set of beliefs (about what this person said) that they adhere to and make others who don’t have the same views, wrong. There is no wrong, only unconsciousness. There is no right, only learning to see and hear the other without the filter of conditioned ideas.
The unconsciousness of the world, with all of its cruelty and insanity, can be found in your mind. Once you start saying that it is all “out there,” you are crossing your arms and saying. “The world needs to change for me to be ok.” it is the beginning of making yourself right and others wrong – this cuts off your ability to listen. It is the genesis of all conflict and drama.
When you listen without a preconceived plan of how an interaction will go, you are naturally able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes without defending your story. This is when compassion and understanding happen. Listening with openness doesn’t mean that you won’t have a point of view, of course, you will, but you aren’t meeting the person with your mind. You are meeting them with the space of your presence and allowing words to come organically, both from your own wisdom and in response to the other. Not only will this be more pleasant for you, but the other person will also sense an underlying field of acceptance. The experience will be more liberating and perhaps even healing for both of you.
The ego, as well as the unevolved male psyche, sees relating in this way as a weakness, but being open rather than contracted is the only way you can be resilient and make a positive impact. The neediness and fear that comes from the ego’s stance of “I know” has very little power. The ability to understand rather than react, to be inspired, and have clear insight come from being present to the other. Relating to open awareness is the way of dignity and spiritual understanding.
Let’s use a typical example. You decide that you want to post a political opinion on social media. The more identified that you are with a sense of separation (ego), the more you think that you are “right.” Of course, the more you think you are right, the more you will tend to be condescending or combative to uphold the sense of being right. (contrarily, the more you are grounded in being. The more you sense that you are the same as others) Time and again, we see other egos react to this, as there is the debris of resentment and conflict left behind.
If you want to make the world a better place and break the cycle of action and reaction, ask yourself a simple question: Would I rather be right, or at peace? If you’d rather be at peace, you must bring awareness into the mind’s habit of identifying with a point of view.
If you want to awaken and break the cycle, it is first essential to grasp the mechanics of what is happening when you become defensive.
In the egoic state of human development, you live through a story of me. “I am ____ (knowledgable, compassionate, fierce, evolved… insert the ideas). These constant thoughts that are unstable and constantly changing are what we call self-image. You often hear how important it is to have a good self-image, and on one level, this is true. However, when you identify entirely with your self-image, whether it is good or bad, you will likely defend it at a tremendous cost. If you do, this will significantly diminish the quality of your life and others around you. That is what most of us do and look at how well everyone seems to be getting along.
So, if someone says something that threatens your self image, it will react with defensiveness. When this happens, remember that who you are is much deeper than ideas that come and go about yourself. If you are triggered, this is a sign that you are starting to lose touch with awareness, and the mind is trying to become identified with the story. Your task is to stay connected to the other person while bringing conscious awareness into the defensiveness. Practicing alert attention will help ground you in beingness while disidentifying with the story.
When you are angry about something someone says to you, witness the reaction and focus on the other person. You will most likely feel an energetic, emotional charge. Witness the defensive “me” ideas that want to catapult you into defending your point of view. Just notice this. Don’t try to come up with new or better thoughts. Be in your body, and continue to separate yourself from the thoughts and emotions. If the energetic charge is intense, you may want to excuse yourself for a couple of minutes if it is appropriate. Simply be the “I AMness that is watching and listening. Miracles and profound openings can happen from this practice, and this will significantly accelerate your awakening.
What is known as the ego is a mental activity that keeps you from connecting to the present moment – this often comes in the form of a person. If there is nothing to gain in the situation, you may notice the mind daydreaming. Daydreaming is another strategy of strengthening the sense of separation.
The answer is simple, bring consciousness attention into your interactions. When you find yourself thinking rather than listening, be the witness and bring your attention back to hearing the person. This will be very helpful to you because you learn to be present with others at times when it is more natural, and the tendency to have negative consequences isn’t there.
When you are entirely present, when you interact with someone, you are doing one of the most important spiritual practices. Although still challenging, it is easier to not drift to thoughts of past and present when you are meditating or walking in the forest, but authentic listening is putting it into action. You are learning to relate from the ground of being and inviting the other to do the same.
The practical benefits of listening
There are other efficient ways that listening will improve your communication.
- You will be less likely to experience conflict because you will be grounded in a peaceful state that can’t be taken over quickly by reactivity that can greatly damage your life.
- Since the silence within yourself is the place where intuition is accessed, you will be able to respond with wisdom that is much clearer than the ego’s limited, self-serving ideas.
- When someone knows that they are seen and heard, they will be much more likely to like and trust you.
- You will be more relaxed. Therefore your interactions will be more enjoyable.
- You will be able to respond more effectively because you will understand what the other person is saying.
As you let go of the mind’s need to think while people are talking, relax, and give someone your attention, you will be learning to live from your true nature. This is being spiritually awake. If you are experiencing peace and connection while relating, you will know that this is happening.
Presence operates through your psychological disposition in a way that is unique and natural for you. As you begin to deepen your ability to listen, notice that people respond to you differently. You will become more natural, and people will feel freer to be themselves around you. For me, people whom I barely know tell me things that they hadn’t told anyone. Other people may find themselves saying that they are having a good time or laughing a lot in your presence. It certainly depends on your personality.
Most of us have had the experience of being enchanted with someone and after honest analysis, realizing that we liked this person because they were extremely interested in us. If someone is not superficially but genuinely connecting and listening, you recognize that it is rare, and something within you is touched.
It’s good for the ego to know what it is going to get out of any spiritual practice so that it can feel comfortable with taking a back seat. So I will say this to the ego: if you learn to listen deeply, whatever it is that you do for a living, you will be better at it. You will improve your love relationships and friendships, and life will also just be more fun. I have just named a few of the benefits here. I’m sure you can think of others.
I can also tell your ego that it is always trying to grasp and push away through excessive thinking; people will feel it. If you aren’t listening, people will feel it on a conscious or unconscious level. Things won’t feel as comfortable, as pleasant or as enjoyable. Rather than just responding superficially, you will be able to respond in ways that are in the best interest of everyone.
You are always broadcasting who you are – any kind of a front is not fooling anyone.
Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “Who you speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” Many of us have heard that only 7 percent of communication is in the words that we say. The rest is non-verbal. You can’t hide who you are. You are transmitting who you are through the truth of your presence – non-verbally and through the energy that you emanate.
It takes practice
When you are practicing presence when interacting with others, you will notice a peace within you, but at first, you will probably also see how the mind is trying to get the attention away from the other person and on to what you want to say next. If there is a disagreement, there may be an emotional charge that is substantial. Don’t become identified with thoughts and emotions, stay present, and witness. It can also be helpful at this point to ground yourself in your body and your breath.
This is practicing what I call “being the sky (awareness), rather than being the clouds (thoughts).” Changing the place from which you live, from being wholly identified with yourself as the clouds to knowing yourself more and more like the sky, is the spiritual awakening process. (of course, there is only one sky) The more you practice being present and witnessing the clouds when they try to take you over, the more awareness wakes up within you, and the less you are living as an ego.
Less you, more flow.
We all know what it feels like to be “in the flow” in a conversation. The right things come out of our mouth at the right time. The conversation seems effortless on both sides. For some of us, we tend to have this interaction more of the time in individual relationships. For some of us, it may be when we do our job; for some, it can be with certain friends. Finding this flow as much as possible; this is waking up and living it.
I recently spoke with my mother about a job she had as a Public Relations Representative in the emergency room at her local hospital. Her position was to be the liaison between the medical staff and the patients’ families in The ER. If you knew my mother, you would quickly see that this is a perfect job for her. She is very personable and knows how to light up a room when she enters. People always seem to respond to her smile.
Although she was at that job for a short time, she touched a lot of people’s lives. She had ex-patients and their families return to thank her for the help that she had given them, she received several thank you letters, and the staff very often expressed appreciation for the work that she did.
I asked her how she approached the job. Her answer was, “ I didn’t try to do a good job. I just wanted to be there for them in any way that I could during their hardest time.” She said that she lost time; there seemed to be a relaxed flow during her shift.
In situations like this, when we leave ourselves alone and allow ourselves to “just be” for the other – what needs to be said is said, and what needs to happen will happen. You don’t need to work so hard. We have all had this experience. It is as if life itself is doing it so much better than you could if you tried your hardest.
In conclusion: True listening, which is very rare, is one of the most important things that you can do on your spiritual path. It is meditation in action. When you connect with someone deeper than mind chatter, it is spirit connecting with spirit. Practice holding this space for others, and it will ground you in your true nature, helping to transform you and others.