Listening Attention
by Bob Fergeson

Bob Fergeson

This month's commentary is about what I call the "Listening Attention," a meditation technique, if you will, which I've found to be a gateway to our Inner Self. The poet John Davis once said he felt the highest meditation was "listening with the eyes." This is a good starting definition. Another would be to look with attention, but without interpretation: to listen, the attention turned both inward and outward at the same time, with no thought or expectation. No expectation, judging or defining; no thought, no mind. This combined attention uses both the inner ear and eye, and is turned towards the inner heart and the outer world simultaneously. It is passive in that it does not project an image, or thought; it is active for the same reason, in that it is a pure attention, an active not-doing. There is no sense of an 'I' involved, for that would mean the springing forth of an image, which the attention would become identified with. It does not entail a motionless, inert body, for it can be found while engaging in activity.

Before talking about how to find this portal to the Inner Self, let's first explore why it would be a worthwhile endeavor. First, I'd like to clarify that this is not a technique for adding another 'spiritual' behavior to our list. We do not need to put another head on top of the one we already have, but need to somehow get back to a truer state we have lost through years of conditioning. In other words, we do not need another form of hypnosis or new way to put ourselves further to sleep, but to find how to become un-hypnotized, more awake. I have to assume if you've come this far that you have reasons for engaging in spiritual work. Enough time spent digging through the patterns and habits of the mind will eventually lead one to the unflattering realization that one is mechanical, a robot. I like to call this creature we find ourselves to be, a SMAARP, a Self-Maintaining Accidental Associative Reaction Pattern. Most of us start this journey to self-discovery convinced we are smart SMAARP's, and it can take quite a few blows to our proverbial fat heads before we realize we are mechanical, that the mind can never solve the problem of self-definition by itself. We need help. The listening attention is a door to going within, to re-connecting with our inner man, to that part of us which Knows. Once we are convinced of our robotic nature, we may come to see the value of connecting once again with the intelligence that created us.

The silent passage to the inner world is always with us, it does not need to be formed, just found, but we may need years of preparation to see it. A great deal of self-analysis, 'work on one-self,' is usually needed in order to get beyond the ego and its belief that the mind and worded thoughts will lead us to the Real. A lifetime of learned behaviors, emotional blocks, fears, self-doubts, and wishful thinking need to cleared away. We must reach a point where we can slip behind our compensatory thinking patterns long enough to let something real get through. All repressed emotional material and debilitating drains on our energy must be dealt with, too. We will need all our strength to face the unknown, alone and unarmed.

There will be much resistance to the attempt to go within. Our physical needs must be met, giving us the thought that time spent "doing nothing but listening" to be sheer folly. The need for distraction in social endeavors, TV, movies, and other forms of feeding the head, will need to be dealt with. Our family and friends will most likely not share the value we place on finding a connection to the Inner Self, as it does not bring an immediate material reward and is not conducive to maintaining whatever psychological dramas might be in place.

Perhaps the most effective resistance to our inner journey will not come from outside, through society or family, but from our own fear of the unknown. We may find we are both unwilling to let go of our old way of being, and not willing to take a chance on something new. For most of us, some form of suffering or trauma is necessary before we will trust our own inner guidance. Fear can block us at every turn, until we take our meaning from within, from the present, and release our mental hold on the projected past or imagined future.

These struggles of self-discovery are also necessary to find the right individual method for the listening attention. I found that moving about, through hiking and cross country skiing, to be the best way for me. I could not sit still long enough to bring about the inner relaxation needed, or else would simply fall asleep. I know of one man who would drive, spending hours behind the wheel of his car becuse it would give his outer mind and body just enough to do to allow his inner self the freedom to surface. If sitting in a chair will work, great, it would sure save a lot of time and gas. Knowing what body type and disposition we have is a great help in opening the door.

A good example of how this can happen was during one winter as I was struggling to improve my cross-country skiing technique. I was caught between the technical advice given by instructor friends, and the feeling that I knew what to do if I would just listen to the inner voice instead. I finally decided to go with my instincts, and my skiing quickly reached a new level of freedom and skill. Affirmation was quick in coming, for one day as I was thumbing through a skiing magazine, I noticed an article by a coach on what techniques the fastest skiers used. The system he described was exactly the one I had found, and had been discovered by his athletes in much the same way. While this may hardly seem a momentous step in self-discovery, it gave the clue that trusting my own intuition and inner guidance was a good idea, and that rote learning through mimicking others would not bring me any closer to learning to go within. Every one must find his own portal into the listening attention through his own experience and faith.

—Bob Fergeson

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