Listening is an important skill to have in life. Yet we do not always do it properly. Our failure to listen well can affect our relationships and cause misunderstandings. One factor that hinders our ability to listen is a saturated mind. When the mind is full of opinions, it is hard for anything else to go in. To better illustrate this point, let me share with you a story.
A Cup of Tea
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
How to Empty the Mind and Listen
It is well and good to know that we must empty the mind to listen. But how do with go about doing so when we value our own opinions so highly? There are three ways of doing so which I will now share with you.
1. Adopt a Learning Attitude
A person who feels that he has nothing to learn will not do so, clinging stubbornly to his views instead. To learn, you need an open mind. To have an open mind, you have to rid yourself of any views and preconceptions that you may have about a subject. Only when your mind is empty will you be able to absorb new knowledge and information.
The proud and the egoistic often have trouble accepting views that are contrary to their own. They believe that they are right and know better. This view makes it hard for them to empty their minds and listen. But humility has a different take. By being humble, you accept that others may know something that you do not. Such a mindset makes it easier for you to let go of your ideas and listen.
3. Understand the Other Point of View
If you cling to your own point of view, you will not be able to listen well. You will spend too much time and effort defending your position. But if you focused your efforts on understanding the other point of view, it becomes easier to empty your mind. On the one hand, you have to let go of your ideas so that you can focus on listening. On the other hand, when you try to understand the other point of view, you have to empty your mind to do so.
Listening with an open mind is not easy. Often we forget ourselves when our opinions are at stake. Even so, we should make an effort to listen for the sake of our relationships. When you find it difficult to do so, do remember the story of the overflowing cup and the three points I shared. It made be hard to listen well at first, but practice always makes perfect.
What are the problems that hinder you from listening well? Are there any other ideas you have that help you to listen better? Do share your thoughts and comments below.