The Listening Ear

As humans, we are hungry to be heard. In fact, we will do anything to accomplish that—scream, yell, cry, beat the walls, post graffiti, you name it.  It’s so essential to our well-being that when we’re not heard, it’s physically and emotionally painful and results in loneliness, anxiety and depression. Our modern dis-ease. Some people say it’s a pandemic, a different kind from COVID.

Without human contact we shrivel up, babies actually die without touch. I believe we continue to have that need throughout our whole life. We’re surrounded by people, billions more people than ever in this world. Yet so many of us have no one who we can talk to in a close intimate way, sharing ourselves, and listening to others.

But I think we have it in Reflective Mindfulness Meditation.  We invite people to share their sitting or a small part of it without interruption. I have never seen a person abuse that invitation even though I’ve never said they should be mindful of the time, many others may want to share, keep it brief, etc.  

When I’m on the listening end, and I feel anxious or restless, when I’m on Zoom, I’ll put the mute on so I don’t accidentally interrupt with a word or sound. When they’re done speaking, I leave a little gap as if to say, “Is there anything else?” Then in our practice, we have a conversation where we might ask a few questions about their sitting, being mindful of not probing or asking questions in a too-tender area, and supporting their path.

When we share our sittings, in hearing our own experience out loud, we hear it differently and maybe we see something we hadn’t noticed before. In conversation, we feel heard. When we listen to others we often feel connected in a very personal way. This is our dharma practice—listening, connecting, sharing.

I have a statue of the Buddha that I found in Nashville in a shop on a street full of bars and nightclubs.  I looked through the whole shop for the face I wanted. I’d been looking for 2 or 3 years to find the right one with the face that was just right. There he was in a corner on a shelf close to the ceiling, full of dust.  They took him down and cleaned him up and I brought him home.  He sits on the window seat in my living room, and in the morning when I open the shades, I often softly tap him on the head and say hello.  

Most Buddha statues have long ears. Interesting. When I looked up why these statues have long ears there were many theories. One was that in his time, men displayed their wealth and prosperity on their ears and he could have stretched his earlobes by wearing large and heavy jewelry. Of course, when he left his home to be an ascetic, he removed all of it but his ears were already stretched.

Another theory is that his long ears represent wisdom and compassion.  He is said to have the ability to hear the sound of the world. He hears the cries of suffering and responds accordingly to ease the suffering.

This is a good reminder for me to do the same as much as possible.

There are many other theories.

How much listening do we do? Buddhist tradition places a lot of emphasis on listening. So much of the time we’re preoccupied with our own thoughts, our plans, and our worries.  Can we quiet the mind to tune into what’s inside of us as well as what’s happening outside? Can we put the planning aside when we meet someone so we can listen?  I find it hard to do that on my cell. For me, something about being on a cell makes it hard to really listen. I’ve taken to walking to avoid multitasking. I do better in person or Zoom. I need to develop big ears.

There’s so much to listen to. Not just the words but what isn’t said, body language, recalling my history with this person as well as their personal history.  How do I make sense of all that is shared?

When we deeply listen, it’s a gift. Maybe the best gift possible.

Do I give that same gift to myself or is it full of criticism, pressure and judgment? It does feel wonderful to turn a listening ear inward and outward to the world without criticism or judgment.  Where am I today? Who am I today? What is the world saying to me today? These are questions that can give us big ears.

This is written by Nan Shepherd who hiked the Scottish Highlands her whole life—88 years, studying them, looking carefully at them, learning the intricate details of the Highlands.

The eye sees what it didn’t see before, or sees in a new way what it had already seen. So the ear, the other senses. These moments come unpredictably, yet governed, it would seem, by a law whose working is dimly understood

Can we do the same in our meditation?

This article is also available as a podcast episode from Sati Sangha.

Red spot between Ears” by enneafive is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Photo by he zhu on Unsplash

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About Erica Dutton

Erica Dutton is an experienced teacher and practitioner of Reflective Meditation. She has dedicated herself to sharing this practice so others can succeed in meditation, see their experience as important and valuable, and realize the benefits.


  1. Wonderful practice.

  2. One sunny summer day I was in the Florida Keys at a small cabin next to a pond that was indirectly connected to the Ocean. I sat and noticed all the rocks at the bottom of the pond there did not appear to be any fish or life. I sat still and watched for sometime and about the time I was going to leave little crabs came out of their hiding places from under the rocks. One by one they started dancing, protecting their territory. I felt like they put on a show just for me once they knew I was not dangerous to their lives. Years ago, people went to church for healing like confession but in 2023 the tech spiral sucks away all the time and oxygen and human beings get lost in the noise. You want to see some over sized super ears, check out Ganesha. His image makes it clear, don’t forget about our animal friends from the planet earth even if you think you are half computer or Android.

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