If there is one thing which this year has demonstrated more than anything else, it is that we find it infuriatingly difficult to listen to opinions which are contrary to our own. The postmortem discussions following the UK referendum and the US election were at times hysterical and exaggerated, but eventually also insightful. It turns out we have a problem performing the simplest of tasks; one which could fast track our evolution: listening. As someone close to me always says: ‘People just want to be heard.’ Unfortunately, we can barely hear each other over the sound of our own voices. There are too many people making too much noise.
This year has made it unavoidably clear that blame and persecution only cause others to go on the defensive and resort to the same tactics. Remarkably – or not, actually – the same mirroring effect occurs with displays of love and compassion. Therefore, if we can learn to respond with those qualities (which takes practice), rather than from fear and self-protection (which take no practice at all), then we can evolve faster than at any point in our history. But how can you have compassion if you can’t listen? And how can you listen if you can’t be quiet?
As with everything, it begins with the self. Encouragingly, aside from improving your relationships with others, quietness will also improve your relationship with yourself. The quieter you can be, the more you will be able to hear and understand yourself, as the following extracts from my book indicate:
p.143 – Karaj: ‘When the body gets rid of rubbish through physical work, the mind becomes silent. Listen to your body. Sharpen it; harden it so it’s a tool to quieten your mind.’
p.163 – I talked to Karaj about where I am. Be patient. He explained that to learn to keep one’s mouth shut is one of the hardest disciplines of all. It took him 15 years to keep quiet.
p.239 – If I want to know how peaceful I am, then all I need to do is be quiet. It’s then that we notice how busy our minds are, and we cannot fail to conclude that if the mind is so active when we try to be quiet, how can we possibly say that we are focused in our work or in our listening?
p.281 – I also started to feel the need for quietness. Throughout the rest of the day, as I became quiet, I realised just how much noise I usually make; the unnecessary noise of excitement and projection. This encouraged me to remain quiet, and as the day wore on I noticed that I became more aware of my surroundings and everything that was going on around me. My observations became sharper.
p.309 – Karaj told me that because I am being quiet, I am able to see the games I play and, as I get quieter, more will be revealed to me of just how devious and manipulative I am.
p.451 – I remained quiet until it was appropriate for me to speak, rather than talk for the sake of it, which is often what I used to do.
p.454 – Yesterday he informed me that the quieter I become, the more insight I will have. And today he added that quietness is where my commitment needs to be.
p.594 – I didn’t want to speak because I notice how it takes me out of where I am.
p.601 – So, my message to myself is this: ‘Be gentle with yourself. Take your time. Be focused and clear. Listen carefully to who you are. Be in awe of your journey, and use every opportunity to be quiet, still, and at peace with yourself and the world.’
The rewards are obvious, and last weekend I saw what else I can do to practise quietness: If I’m speaking, I can probably assume I’m saying something which doesn’t need to be said – an opinion, a judgement, or unsolicited advice. Similarly, if I catch myself thinking, the chances are it’s an unnecessary thought. It is better to let the words and thoughts go, sit quietly with a clear mind, enjoy the stillness, and listen closely to the silence. Imagine where we’d be if we all did that a little more often.