When you watch Ajan listening to someone, it’s quite a sight to behold.
He sits leaning forward in his chair, his eyes opened so wide they’re almost bulging, tilting his head towards the speaker – absolutely all of his attention is focused on listening.
In his typical free mixture of English and French, he says he has “the Elephant’s Oreille.” “The Ear of an Elephant.”
When he listens, Ajan does absolutely nothing else but listen. This means listening without judgement, without anything of his own opinion or his own idea. He knows that if he has his own idea in mind while he wants to listen, he won’t really hear all that is being said, because his understanding will be blocked by his own idea.
He learned this from his teacher, who he says did the same: even when listening to the speech of a child of seven years old, he leaned forward, all his attention fixed there as though he were hearing the last words of the Buddha.
Eric has another trick to make himself pay proper attention like this when he wants to listen carefully: as soon as someone starts speaking to him, he quickly jumps in and says “J’écoute!” (“I’m listening!”)
And then he shuts up and lets the other talk. He says that he does this in order to bring back his mind each time to simply listening to the person who is talking, to cut whatever thoughts are in his mind and just place his attention there.
I’m listening! he says. Really he is saying to himself “Stop whatever you’re thinking – now just listen for the moment.”
(Of course, by the way, all this is mainly for when the subject is important, when there is something really worth hearing. I wouldn’t necessarily apply this to the conversation you have with the cashier at the petrol station.)
I learned something about this myself recently. Two days ago I had done something wrong (of which more later) and Ajan was talking to me, telling me my mistake and telling me what I needed to do to correct myself and not allow such a thing to happen again.
As I was listening to him, I looked inside, and saw how in my mind there was a little shock of resistance to each word he said – how the words were like cold raindrops hitting the skin.
I was really trying to listen to him, but I saw that actually it was the ego who was listening, bringing with it shame and regret inside for the mistake, and a kind of squirming embarrassment at being told off. It didn’t want to just let in the words, to take in the message. The message would still get through, but only after passing by an untrustworthy translator.
I’m explaining in quite a lot of detail something that happened in one quick flash, and it’s a bit difficult to describe properly because all of this was so little, it was there on such a very small scale.
The important thing is that the moment I looked inside and saw it, it dropped away and dissolved completely. Then I was able to just listen, really and fully listen to every word with no judgement – neither grasping at it, nor resisting it.
It is such a beautiful thing to listen like this. it made it so easy to repair this mistake: I had someone to tell me how to correct it, and I was able to fully hear them, and then to follow their teaching because I saw the wisdom of it. It sounds really simple, almost stupidly so, but actually most of us don’t know how to listen in this way most of the time. To do it, you have to remove Yourself and your ego as the thing that’s most important for the moment, and instead give the highest priority to What is Being Said.