Tuesday, September 27, 2005


What we hear depends on how we listen. How we listen can be shaped by many factors.

Sometimes when we hear a person talking to us, we are not really listening to them at all. We know words are being spoken. We may pick up words here and there. We even may know the gist of what is being said.

Nonetheless, we are preoccupied with something else. The individual speaking to us is running second best, or worst, in our attention sweepstakes.

On other occasions, we may be both hearing and listening to what someone is saying. However, for whatever reason, we just can't grab hold of what is being said. Our minds are sort of 'fogged in'.

Maybe the topic or issue doesn't interest us. Maybe we are tired. Maybe the other person is not very articulate. Maybe we don't care for the other person all that much and, as a result, find, for instance, empathizing or sympathizing with the individual difficult to do.

We hear with our ears. However, we listen through many other modalities.

For example, we listen through our minds. In other words, we listen through, among other things, our attitudes, values, understandings, beliefs, interests, and memories. All of these shape the way we listen to what we hear.

We listen through our emotions. We filter what we hear by means of our fear, anger, jealousy, pride, lust, envy and so on.

We listen through our moods. Our hope, sadness, apathy, happiness, impatience, and irritability all tend to color what we hear.

We listen through the condition of our bodies. Feeling healthy, tired, sick, hungry in pain, or energetic may affect what we hear.

We listen through our motivational states. We tend to hear what others say in terms of our ambitions, goals, purposes and plans.

We listen through our fantasies. We project the scenarios generated by our imaginations onto the words of other people.

However simple what we hear may be, how we listen can complicate matters very quickly. Our modes of listening are the source of many different kinds of distortion, misunderstanding, and communication breakdown.

We may be able to repeat exactly the words we hear. Nevertheless, the listening context in which those words are immersed can give those words an array of meanings quite far removed from what the speaker had intended.

Sufi masters seek to help initiates transform the way they listen. There are, at least, two stages to this transformation process.

To begin with, emotion, mind, motivation, fantasy, physical condition, and mood all give expression to characteristic ways of affecting the manner in which we listen. Thus, every mode of listening has an identifiable phenomenology or experiential flavor.

Consequently, one aspect of the aforementioned transformation process is to learn how to listen to our modes of listening.

By becoming familiar with the currents running through our internal listening milieu, we will be in a better position to be aware of the many different ways in which our mode of listening is capable of distorting what we hear.

Secondly, we must begin to substitute other modalities of listening for the "normal" methods of listening used by our egos or false selves. For example, consider the following.

When we listen through insincerity, we cannot hear sincerity. When we listen through intolerance, tolerance sounds foreign to us. When we listen through indifference, compassion has a false ring to it. When we listen through impatience, we have no time to listen to patience. When we listen through grudges, forgiveness seems hypocritical to us.

On the other hand, listening through sincerity, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness and patience leads to very different results than when we listen through insincerity, indifference, intolerance, grudges and impatience. Even when the former modalities of listening are not reciprocated by others, we tend to be, for instance, more at peace with ourselves and the world than when we employ the listening modalities of the false self.

There are many other residual benefits, besides a greater sense of peace, which emerge when our way of listening to others becomes more spiritual in nature. In fact, our whole way of interacting with other human beings, as well as the rest of creation, undergoes a transformation.

Quite frequently, when a person first comes to a Sufi shaykh, the individual listens to the spiritual guide mostly in problematic ways. As a result, not much of what the teacher says stays with the individual in a manner which would affect the latter's behavior.

The individual may remember what the shaykh has said. Nonetheless, the connection between what is said and changing the way we listen to ourselves, others or creation continues to elude the individual.

When, by the grace of God, a spiritual inclination arises in the individual to maintain permanent association with the spiritual guide, this spiritual link becomes the seed of the Philosopher's Stone, so to speak, through which the individual's way of listening begins to change.

Through spiritual association with the shaykh, the heart of the individual becomes, by the grace of God, purified. As the heart becomes purified, the individual begins to listen to the shaykh's teachings with the heart and not through the beliefs, emotions, moods, motivations and fantasies of the individual. When the person starts listening to the shaykh through the purified heart, the words of the shaykh begin to seep into, and shape, the fabric of the heart. If God wishes, this leads to further changes of listening behavior in the seeker.

The Sufi master always listens to the individual through love. Whatever we may think or feel, we are listened to with love. Whatever our faults and mistakes may be, we are listened to with love.

Indeed, the spiritual guide listens to all of creation through love. This modality of listening gives expression to one of the ways in which the Sufi master worships and serves God.



Anonymous said...

Another good peice.

I do not understand how the self and the Self differ. I have heard other suifi shaykhs mention that nafs and self are one, it is just that nafs needs to take a back seat and allow self to emerge and take charge.

kevin said...

Asallam alaykum,

I was going to post this query on your wife's blog, but then I thought it more appropriate to direct it here, since you are the author.

I am reading your e-book "Evolution on Trial", are the 'facts' presented actual references to real evidences?

For example, you have Professor Yardley mention findings from the Apollo's space program on the moon - are these actual studies?

This is one area of fictionalized 'non-fiction' that I have a difficult time with, sorting out the fiction from the non-fiction! Since we have the benefit of asking the author... I thought you wouldn't mind and would understand.

thank you

Bilquees said...

Salaam, Kevin,

Anab has given me permission to answer your question as he just now getting ready to leave home to teach his psychology classes.

The only thing that's fictional is the court setting and characters. The rest is factual. We both hope that answers your question. If not, maybe later Anab will have time to respond directly to your comment.

Peace and blessings,

kevin said...

thank you Bilquees, very good, that is what I thought.

I doubt I'll have any other questions, I just play music, I can wonder, think, and appreciate science - but, I can hardely claim to question much of it.

thank Anab for me.
sallam alaykum

Paul said...

Modalities of listening... Interesting concept. Getting my Masters in Counseling there was a lot on "listening skills," but this is a great way of conceptualizing impediments to listening.

Anab said...

For the individual who posted the anonymous comment concerning the difference betweeen self and Self, perhaps there are, at least, several ways of engaging this issue. First, one might say that a difference between the self and the Self is that the former (self) is an expression of the unredeemed spiritual potential of a human being, while the latter (Self) is the expression of the realized spiritual potential of an individual. The lower-case 's' self is the dimension of nafs which is referred to as the carnal soul and is inclined toward becoming caught up in dunya, or the collective dynamics generated by the interaction of everyone's lower, carnal soul.

Another way of talking about the difference between self and Self, is that the former is the dimension of human potential which serves to veil the presence of the potential of the Self. As such, the task is not for nafs to take a back seat but, rather, to undergo a transformation, God willing, which renders nafs an ally for the spiritual path, rather than being an obstacle and a source of veiling.

The nafs is a multi-dimensional set of potentials. When the unredeemed, untransformed aspects of nafs are permitted to dominate, then, the other, higher dimensions of human possibility are prevented from developing and becoming manifest.

Finally, there is a distinction to be drawn between capital 'S' Self and Diviinity. More specifically, although in essence, human beings are Divine, we are not Divinity in Essence.

Anab said...

Dear Paul,

I'm happy that you found the essay on listening interesting. You have a very interesting blog of your own, and, as a result, I have listed it a place where people who visit this blog might also like to visit.

Sadiq M. Alam said...

Ramadan Mubarak, brother.

Peace and blessings of Allah be with you and your family and dear ones.