What Are You Listening For? (#923)

On my recent trip to London, I had the chance to meet with hundreds of people who have been impacted by the inside-out understanding and the three simple principles that create our experience of life, for better and for worse.  Many of them shared stories of dramatic changes they’ve experienced in their lives, from reconciled marriages to recovery from depression and from giving up alcohol to breakthrough performance on the golf course.  Others had simpler stories to share of experiencing greater happiness and less suffering in the midst of their day to day lives, without anything much changing in their circumstances one way or another.

But there were also some people who approached me with a more frustrated demeanor, and the questions they asked were invariably some version of this:

Why aren’t I having all these amazing results and insights and breakthroughs? Am I the exception to the rule? What am I doing wrong?

My heart always goes out to anyone who feels that way, probably because I’ve felt that way so often myself.  And at times I get frustrated with my own inability to point towards anything specific that holds them back from the results they so desperately want to create and the peace of mind that sits waiting for all of us just beyond the edges of our personal thinking.

So I’ve been delighted to recognize more and more that there is one thing that does seem to consistently make a difference between “hearing the music” and “looking at those who dance and thinking them insane”. That one thing is what they are listening for when they read about, watch or hear someone talking about the principles.​

The advice on listening I was most often given throughout my early days of study in this field (and have most often shared with others since that time) was to “listen with nothing on my mind”.  Variations on that advice include:

  • Listen like you might listen to a piece of music
  • Listen as if you’ve only come to keep the person next to you company
  • Listen for a feeling
  • Listen like a rock with ears

The reason all these “listenings” can be so useful is that they encourage us to stay out of our analytic, argumentative thinking long enough to hear something new without continually filtering it through and butting it up against what we think we already know.

But what I’ve found more recently is that people who seem to struggle to “get” the principles are actually asking a different question than those of us who are sharing the principles are attempting to answer.  We’re sharing the inside-out understanding as an answer to the question of how life works; they’re listening for an answer to the question “How shall I live?”

Here are some of the other differences between these two fundamentally different questions:

How life works

True whether I believe it or not
Before the “therefore…”

How shall I live?

Useful ways of thinking about things
After the “therefore…”

So it is somewhat unsurprising, given what different questions we are asking, what different things we hear when we listen.

For example, imagine someone says to you “There is an intelligence behind life.”

If you are listening to answer the question “how shall I live?”, you will almost immediately jump ahead to the implications of that idea in your life. “If there is an intelligence behind life,” you might think to yourself, “then I need to find a way to tap into it more. Maybe I should do some intuition training, or see if I can find someone who’s got more access to that intelligence than I do and ask them for advice. And how do I know which thoughts are coming from the intelligence behind life and which ones are just my thinking? This is hard!”

Or someone suggests “Every human being is born with innate mental health and well-being,” and your mind begins to race not only through every apparent exception to that statement you can find, but also to questions like “How do I access it? Why don’t I experience it more?  Why is my husband/wife/parent/child struggling so much if they have it?” and implications like “If every human being has innate mental health and well-being, I should be able to be happy all the time, and getting caught up in insecure thoughts and feelings is a sign of failure, or at least of weakness, laziness, and limited understanding.  I need to try harder!”

Whereas if you’re listening for how life works and someone says to you “There is an intelligence behind life”​, chances are you’ll sense the truth of that.  After all, most of us know that we don’t make the sun come up in the morning or the earth spin around on its axis.  It makes you quieter instead of noisier – more humbled, awed, and grateful than confused.

If they say “Every human being has innate mental health and well-being”, there’s nothing you need to do about that. It’s just a possibility to sit with and see what comes through. And in that simplicity and quiet, chances are you’ll get some insights of your own into the nature of the human mind.

Now of course, if you’re reading this tip to figure out how best to live, I’ve just given you a prescription for you to take into your life, put to the test, and practice until you too can listen the “right” way, learn to have a “quiet mind”, and live in a “deeper feeling”.

But if not, you’ll likely recognize the simple fact of what I’m pointing to – some things are just true whether we believe them or not. And it turns out that seeing those truths for ourselves makes life simpler, gentler, and more fun to be a part of.

With all my love,


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