By acknowledging the “language of the heart” a lawyer learns to listen — without ego — to what others have to say
GUEST COLUMN: DANIEL D. WOO — I’ve discovered a process that helps me get beyond my own thoughts, conceptions, and judgments – including those esoteric terms and concepts that are part of what my spiritual path is today. I’ve learned that there is a way of expressing joy, and that some of it comes from how one listens.
My back story: at age 5 when our family came to the US, I spoke and read Chinese and knew no English. Chinese is read right-downwards to left-downwards. Chinese has no articles or tenses. It is a pictorial language and the same drawing or sound can mean many different things. I learned English and the language of mathematics. Still later I learned business and legal language and jargon. Along the way I lost my knowledge of the Chinese language.
What I did not realize was that during this long process, my mind expanded its ways of battling itself, and hence, this world, as I became even more caught by opinions, concepts and beliefs.
Although spiritual teachings are passed orally and in writing, the words can themselves become traps. They can become a substitute language that further disguises opinions and concepts that are not in touch with the real. Such knowledge can become another form of arrogance.
The importance of using mindful practices
Many years ago I started learning to take into any “session”, of any kind with others, a practice of noticing my own distracting thoughts, inattention, restlessness, judgments, opinions. Using “bare attention to the breath” (from mindfulness practices), I learned to become aware of such arising and then gently to return to what someone is saying.
This “gentleness” was not there at the beginning of my practice. I used to criticize myself rather than recognizing that my “brain” is a ceaseless generator of random thoughts and feelings that are not real.
At times, now, I even close my eyes so that visual stimuli do not get in the way of hearing, especially in more crowded situations where I may not be able to watch the speaker’s face, or sometimes in phone calls. Otherwise face to face, I look at the person speaking.
I learned that my own false concept of self got in the way of hearing. I was impatient to get to the point, to interject an opinion, to judge or criticize another’s manner or way of speaking, to edit someone else’s words, and so on. I had been quick to take snapshot judgments of people.
I began having experiences of full hearing – where someone’s heart speaks and I recognize this – where a wandering story shines light into my own life. I learned to recognize from the heart another person’s suffering and joy.
In years of practicing, patience, acceptance and much more than tolerance arise. The meaning and sense of words changed for me. I began to experience that a sense of separation between “me” and “others” at times disappeared.
I’ve told friends that as I’ve begun to recognize this language of the heart, I found out that it has always been here.
Listening with a beginner’s mind
I make daily “right effort” to attempt to listen with “beginner’s mind” (one of Shunryu Suzuki’s teachings). It is just as important for me today to continue doing this as it was when I first began the practice.
This practice sustains the fact that all humans deserve healthy relationships. “Deserve” means more than need or reward. “Deserve” means that which is the good in each of us can be cultivated, and when such is cultivated, then healthy relationships arise on their own – with oneself, another person and God, Buddha, Allah, Krishna, Great Spirit or whatever words we may use to try to describe and contain the infinite.
The restless, irritated, annoyed mind quiets down in this practice.
Something is transmitted during such moments – even if I am not aware of such when it is happening. Over the years, I’ve had abundant proof that something happens in unexpected ways in this way of hearing – all after the fact.
Friends, acquaintances and strangers have related to me months or even years later how something during a phone call, a get together, a walk, a meal, helped them recognize something within themselves that was ready to change and unfold. Usually I do not even remember what I said until it is related back to me.
And I’ve become more aware of those who have helped me.
What I have experienced is inside – this is where the changes begin.
Daniel D. Woo woke up to an understanding that suffering is not ended until view, intention and action are changed. He continues learning how little he knows, and experiencing how kindness changes the universe. Dan practices law in Seattle, Washington. You can reached him via Facebook or Linkedin.
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