I have seen consultation sessions here in Japan where the client/student sit in enclosed silence while the therapist/teacher silently and patiently waits, neither saying a word until the end of the session. Perhaps it is through such silent meditation with another that we can truly penetrate to that internal space beyond spoken language, that beautiful nothingness. That is, when our spoken language fails to meet the expectations of the other due to linguistic barriers, how to we deeply learn from each other? How do we help each other? It seems that the Carl Rogers way of empathic understanding would work very well in this situation and sometimes it may only take a smile and time to sit together to open up the situation and create a comfortable space between self and other.
I think that sometimes listening can be more difficult than expressing. Perhaps listening itself is a form of expression. What does it mean to actively listen to another person without forming our opinions and judgments during their talk? Even though people seem to value the quick response as a valid method of replying, I think we should take a note from the Japanese way of communication and learn to become better listeners. If we look at music, the beauty of electro-acoustic music or environmental recordings is the attention it demands of us. It can be very challenging to engage in the sound of crickets. How does one listen to the uneven sound of the evening rain? How do our environments change when we truly listen?
Recently, I was asked for a method of learning a foreign language. More specifically, I was asked how one can better develop listening skills. One way is to practice the art of “tuning in.” When I am in a public place, I concentrate on all of the conversations taking place around me. Since all of the conversations are in a different language (Japanese), I can become aware of the limits of my listening abilities. I see the family enjoying food across from me and in their conversation with the owner of the restaurant I can observe interaction and lose myself in tuning in to their conversation. There is no ill-intentions in this act, simply the desire to enter into an attuned state of listening. Similarly, the train announcements at the station, the recorded messages on the bus, the radio, a Japanese podcast and so on. When we really tune in to the myriad of sounds around us, we let them enter into us and we eliminate the barrier between our own comprehension and the actual sound of the foreign language. During the state of tuning in, the mind is silent, even though thoughts and recollections of understood vocabulary may drift in and out. The purpose of the exercise is to develop one’s ability to tune in to the sounds and to let them merge with oneself.
All in all, listening promotes empathic understanding of the other and develops concentration skills. Of course, in the example of second-language acquisition, I think it is also very important to balance your listening with a host of other exercises and strategies (self-experimentation as to what methods work the best for you are encouraged). In the case of silent listening, sitting together and creating a language-less space may increase and deepen awareness between you and the other. By simply experiencing the flow of life, the flow of mind, you may come to a richer understanding of the present moment.