An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

Listening to my reed…

In Meditation, parenting on February 6, 2012 at 5:28 am

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of meeting at least three spiritual masters of the Islamic spiritual tradition. They embodied a spiritual state and tradition which is beyond any words I can use to describe here. As I reflect on each of them, they all have various abilities and qualities but I feel they all had one thing in common; When someone would speak, they would give their undivided complete attention and listen with their complete being, as the Prophet pbuh is reported to have done. So intense was their quality of listening, that I would often become aware of it when speaking. They weren’t just listening very attentively, they were listening with presence, with a higher dimension of consciousness and it was evident. In Islamic terminology they were infused with the Divine quality of Al-Samee’ (The All Hearing).

For me personally, I feel this is probably the single most important quality in relationships that is needed in the modern world where there is so much noise, inwardly and outwardly, that it’s significance is often missed completely. If we give our children everything but can’t truly listen to them by turning to them with all our attention when they speak, I feel we are robbing them of something essential for their development and growth. Their need to be listened to may well manifest in other ways if neglected on a regularly. With all the digital distractions, smart phones, computers, television etc, I feel all the more important and maybe taking out some time to just be with each other and listen, is worth doing. It may well be something we cultivate at the dinner table, over tea or by going for a walk in nature together regularly where we are surrounded by sounds and spaces of silence. Was it Emerson, who stressed the importance of listening to beautiful sounds when he would go for walks?

Truly listening occurs on many levels starting with emptying ourselves of our opinions, projects, judgements and ourselves. As Rumi reminds us in the opening lines of the Masnavi through the reed: “Everybody befriended me through their own opinion, nobody sought the secrets within me” Needless to say, may be we can also listen to what is not said by a person or what their needs are behind what they’re saying. Often people aren’t aware of their underlying needs themselves- be it the need for respect, attention, love, acknowledgement etc. Do we see the need for attention when a child is rude and slams the door? Listening, may also be to ourselves, to our souls longing as Rumi reminds us through story of the reed and as Dawna Markova suggests can lead to a deeper level of activity: “Most of the Western world is caught up in dong, doing, doing- we have become trained to do in order to have so that maybe in some distant time we can be. This is all backward, from the point of view of the soul. As we become quiet enough to listen to the longing of the soul, we may arrive at a deeper level of activity in our lives. We may first live from being and from that will emerge the doing’ We can take listening into higher realms and look into the mysticism of music and sound but I prefer to keep my feet on the ground (on this occasion at least) by focusing on how the quality of listening can transform human relationships or mirrors the quality of a relationship.

Listening also impacts our speaking, as Mevlana Rumi reminds us “Since in order to speak one must first listen, learn to speak by first listening”. I was listening to an Islamic scholar the other day, quite famous, and I could only listen to so much of his talk on youtube. Later I reflected about what was wrong. His ideas seemed sound, insightful and worthy of contemplation. I realised what was missing; his words and sentences didn’t have any gaps of silence between them because they weren’t emanating from that deeper place. As a result, there wasn’t any room for silence to arise in me to allow for tadabur (pondering), tafakur(reflection) and possibly tawasum (reading the signs).

It’s such a beautiful act, just to listen, doesn’t cost anything either, you dont have to be a scholar yet without it what use is all our knowledge? and yet it often goes neglected in our schooling and education, be it secular or religious. In my experience, certain Sufi’s orders have really cultivated the art of listening and speaking through sohbet (spiritual discourse) in which an emptying and a mirroring process occurs between the listener and speaker. Here are my reflections

Its time to listen

I do not know what I’m going to say
But I do know, my friend, its time to listen

My heart has much to share with yours
Come closer, closer still, its time to listen

If words fall short we need not worry
This silence knows our secret, its time to listen

Your heart speaks on my tongue and mine on yours
Lets put the ego to rest, its time to listen

Many secrets have been lost in this moment
Let those who interrupt begone, its time to listen

Saqib! the flame in your chest has its roots in Konya
If somebody lacks the inner ear, know, its time to listen

Try it now. Give yourself a 1 minute retreat by listening. (You may want to click on the timer below to help create that 1 min space). Listen to the computer noise. Listen you your breath. Listen to your thoughts. Listen to the silence between the thoughts….

How was it?

  1. What a beautiful reminder. Thank you.

  2. Greetings,

    Thank you for this!

    A beautiful post about such an important thing – listening -which seems today to be rare because of all the doing, doing, doing. As you say, our children deserve this from us.

    All good wishes,


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: