This I Believe: The Importance of Listening


By Mason McClay Cento Writer

Sore and exhausted, I sat in the pavilion of Indian Hill High School in a frustrating attempt to avoid the wave of ninety degree, mercilessly humid air. I believe I was drifting into a state of disassociation.

I didn’t usually have trouble distinguishing which hand was left and which was right, and the sky didn’t usually scintillate with rays of thousands of vibrant turquoise pearls. Was it even the sky, or had my head been wrapped in blue silk?

This was the typical experience following the dreaded Monday cross country long runs: an afternoon of running eleven hilly miles, after having had several tests, an incredibly nutrient-low meal, and just a couple of hours of sleep. And then there was Savage. My female coach with a man’s haircut, body, and voice — and she was just finishing the run.

“MOOOOOOOOOOOOVE!!!!” was her motto, and she was yelling it furiously at the group of frail, debilitated girls running in front of her as she came down the parking lot toward the pavilion. Instead of becoming overwhelmingly annoyed with Savage’s battle screech, which was my usual reaction, I had a strange, intensely positive response.

I started laughing hysterically. And I couldn’t stop for several minutes.

Now some might consider this reaction to be slightly psychopathic — or just an abnormal response from my delusional state — but it appeared to me to be one of several culminating experiences with a spout of wisdom that I had been encountering almost every moment of my conscious awareness.

This piece of wisdom is simply the art of listening. And given the example above, it influenced my perception of the world on almost every level.

I was once told that if I learned to listen, there would be nothing more I could be taught. Upon receiving this advice, I did not synthesize what it might mean with the rest of my life, just underwent a complete, almost distressful, confusion.

That being said, my approach to practicing listening was entirely counterintuitive. Instead of attempting to do that which I was sure I couldn’t do — I mean, actually listening to other people — I began with trying to listen to myself.

Each day I awoke with these words of advice rattling in mind. So I simply sat and listened to my own mind.

What deeply rooted thoughts were ringing in my ears when my eyes opened in the morning? What memories were there that caused me to think one way or another?

By doing this on a consistent basis, I began to understand that there were countless psychological events obstructing my ability to listen: judgments, misconceptions, false perceptions, insecurities, and mental projections of all of these phenomena that I cast on the people who reminded me of them.

The more that I listened to my mind, the more clear it became that there was plenty of ugliness to which to listen.

However, the most fascinating process began to occur. Whenever I was able to listen to one of these bleak judgments or insecurities, they immediately vanished, as if dissolving into an infinitely vast ocean; all that would remain would be my focused intent of listening. It would shift to a soft quietness, accented by beautiful serenity.

Every moment I fought for the awareness of what I considered pure listening. I made it clear to myself that every activity I performed could be coupled by the sensation of listening.

In class, on the track, writing, painting, conversing, eating: during every action I listened intently to my mind, observing how thoughts came and went, and how perceptions gradually shifted week by week. During this time, music bore a sweeter tone, and the conversations I heard had many levels of meaning.

People’s intentions behind what they said and did seemed clearer, and my own intentions appeared to be always clear, given that I only acted out of a mind that listened to almost every cognitive and emotional reservation I carried.

But it wasn’t for a couple of years that this daily practice of listening revealed its importance and was made completely transparent. One Saturday morning, I was sitting still, listening, observing my breath, my mind, the sensations in my body. Then I slowly began to lose consciousness. An hour later my eyes opened.

“Where am I?” was the only thought that rolled through my awareness, as if it was never my thought to begin with. I gently made my way outside.

Now standing, not aware that I had left the room where I had just drifted away, I looked to the ground, then to the sky, then I felt the wind, then the rocks beneath my feet, then the softness of my breath, then a surging ball of joy in my abdomen.

This, to me, was the point of listening: to experience every sensation of living entirely, with no mental reservation, no distraction, and no analysis of what is happening in one’s atmosphere.

No anxiety, no impulse, no desire, no destination. Just being and listening to the songs of birds and sighs of the wind.

As one of the simplest things to practice, the rewards of true listening are surely ineffable and have become the most integral facet of my experience of every moment and the subsequent actions I make.
I suppose that it is no surprise after all that while calmly listening with a head draped in silk the insane image of Savage as she ran toward the pavilion while eagerly shouting “MOOOOOOVE” was a greater reason than any to burst into wild laughter.


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