Suni-Ai: Deep Listening
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion in India, authored a mantra (a sound vibration that enables practitioners to focus their thoughts, feelings and highest intention) called Suni-Ai, which means listening. Deep listening has been emphasized over the ages across philosophers, psychologists, educators, sages and health care practitioners. It is considered a master key to healing and transformation as it allows access to the deep trenches of one’s being, the eternal wisdom that lays latent and the unrealized possibilities. However, one must be judicious with the usage of the term ‘listening’ as it is starkly distinguished from ‘hearing’.
The term ‘hearing’ is used to denote a physical, involuntary act whereby one receives sound waves through one’s ears. Even though the ear is continuously gathering and transmitting information, not all information is processed by the brain. Contrarily, when one listens, one employs not just the ears but the entire being as listening is a more active process that involves greater concentration and involvement. Effective listening requires one to silence the mind of the incessant chatter such that all preconceived notions, judgements, ideas and expectations are released. Listening demands a commitment to stay rooted in the present moment and embrace the uniqueness that surfaces as one recognizes the limitless potentialities of each moment and each person involved. As a result, listening is effortful and often times exhausting as it entails both receiving and giving! While listening, one is processing the information and fitting it into a larger landscape to provide context and perspective.
Yet, in our current times, the lavish indulgence of bountiful information has led to our senses being overwhelmed and constantly fired up. In order to survive effectively, humans have insulated themselves by placing barricades against the external world by willfully ejecting out the bulk of incoming stimulation. Moreover, we have skillfully availed of technology to even silence signals of our basic biological needs by relying on apps to make decisions about the amount we eat, sleep and walk. So, animals, the lowly considered creatures, have retained their capacities to deeply absorb and extract sounds from the environment while relying on their own instinct to survive in the wild. Whereas humans have blocked their inner voice and the immeasurable wisdom that lays latent as they are hustling to navigate the incalculable forms of external indulgence! Subsequently, we are deprived of the hidden treasures, the intricacies of life and the beauty of the unknown.
Why have humans lost their capacities to listen to others? Zeno, the Greek philosopher said, “Two ears to one tongue, therefore hear twice as much as you speak.” Still we find it excruciating to engage in a dialogue without asserting our own position or influencing the other to adopt our perspective. Since we are engrossed in meeting timelines and hustling between multiples roles, we are unavailable, impatient and restless to get things done! Further, it may be futile to attempt listening to another when we have ceased to listen to ourselves. It may be analogous to lighting another’s lamp when one’s own lamp has been extinguished. Nevertheless, listening to oneself is an act of courage and perseverance. We are ingenious beings and have competently tuned off the inner sounds to protect self from voices, spaces and realms that are uncomfortable or painful. It may be easier to push the filth below the carpet then to sweep it! Often, we shield the self by denying or avoiding the voice rather than allow it into consciousness!
The Chinese character for ‘ear’ is central to the characters for ‘wise’ and ‘sage’. This signifies that one who listens well has the capacity of a sage! So, while we traverse through the vicissitudes of life, let us acknowledge the power of this inherent gift that we have been bestowed with. Let us breathe deeply and fill those lungs with oxygen so we can pause the endless conversations, both, in our head and outside. We are flooded with a range of options from yogic practices, to mindfulness trainings, to meditation, to chanting, and several more. The essence of these practices lies in its power to reconnect us to our source, grounding us and connecting us to the present moment so that we can open our ears, our hearts and our minds and absorb the sounds, both within and outside! After all, “The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear!”