That Which Listens Inside of Us

Have you ever been in a group trying to put together a puzzle  that’s come in a bag without the picture or image? It’s really hard, nearly impossible at times… Although you can mechanically follow all the steps, there is a method to follow but there are times when what you are looking at just makes no sense. Those few pieces that either stand with this group or that. Sometimes so indistinguishable that no sense can be made of it.

And then someone comes along and easily looks over your shoulder and announces, oh that’s part of the house and that’s part of the water. They describe the picture of the puzzle exactly, pointing out the grass that lies next to the water and how in some areas where it’s become so dry it matches the worn roof.

Everyone stands in amazement, “how do you know that?” we all think. They’ve done the puzzle before.

But on some occasions there is someone who just “gets a sense” or “simply gets it right” or “somehow knows.” What is it that distinguishes that quality of knowing from the gross quality of knowing the rest of us struggle with and give up.

It could be the difference between listening. Most of us listen with our ears. We hear what is happening in the world. We listen to books on tape, or our friends confession, or our favorite song, or the sounds of the stream running outside our window. But do we listen to our own thoughts?

I struggled most of my life with an overactive mind. Probably, not unlike anyone else, the thoughts looped into eternity. Certain days or nights, depending on the emotion tied to the thought, I could stand awake and distracted by one single thought as if playing on a broken tape echoing in my mind.

Many years ago, I asked a question of someone who struck me as having that same insight of knowing what the puzzle looked like. He was a senior instructor of a Breema class where there was an opportunity to ask a question. Ruffling up all my confidence, I raised my hand.

“I’ve struggled with letting go. I hear all the other students in class talk about an experience of a quiet mind, I don’t have that, and I guess I’m wondering if I should want that?”

It was a contradiction I heard often in meditation or mindfulness groups, on one hand, the aim is to quiet the mind while at the same time there’s the aim of acceptance of what is. The response to the question surprised me since I’d never heard someone say it but somehow it gave me a small slice of understanding that I’ve held close to my practice.

He leaned in with eyes opened wide as if speaking to someone he knew very well. “Your job is to listen to every thought that passes. Don’t let a thought pass without knowing what it is.”

Let the thoughts go AND listen to every thought that passes. It’s a paradox that only with practice do we begin to understand and form a relationship to that which listens inside of us.