Deep Listening, Nāda Yoga
There was a humorous joke written on the chalkboard at the coffee shop the other day: "My wife said, 'Are you even listening to me?' And I thought, 'That's a funny way to start a conversation.'" This probably strikes us as amusing because it's so true. We are all guilty of sometimes not being active listeners.
I invite you to make a practice this month of how you listen when someone is speaking to you. Are you judging what they are saying? Spacing out? Thinking of something else (aka "half-listening")? Formulating your response? Silently disagreeing? Interrupting or talking over? Or are you actually, actively listening? Try paying attention to how you listen. What shifts when you listen actively to someone who is speaking? is it challenging to do? How does the person you are listening to seem to respond? It is a practice that takes deep focus and concentration.
This month we explore another of the 5 Tenets of Jivamukti Yoga: Nāda Yoga, or union through sound. Through practicing Nāda yoga, we work with sound and hearing and begin to refine our gross, outer listening to the āhata (sounds produced by air molecules striking each other and which are perceptible by the sense of hearing). We then can work on making our listening more and more subtle, turning it inward, listening for the unstruck sound or anāhata, the vibratory primordial sound of all that is and which does not require two things striking together to be produced.
Sound (and related hearing and listening) are very important to humans. Hearing is fully developed in newborn babies, and it is widely thought to be the last sense to go in the dying process. In his book “Nāda Yoga: The Science, Psychology, and Philosophy of Anāhata Nāda Yoga,” Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati writes: "All types of energy have one common factor. That is, they vibrate. This vibration is called nāda or nādam, cosmic music. Plato called it the music of the spheres, the music of nature. It is known as shabda Brahman, saguna Brahman, sphotam, pranava, anāhata nāda and OM. It is the voice of silence. Wherever you go, you will discover this music existing there before you. It is present everywhere, at all times."
And in her Focus-of-the-Month essay for July, Nora Lim writes, "As inherent energetic and vibratory beings, humans have the capacity to recognize and connect to energy and vibrations that are external to us through sound. That recognition and acknowledgement allow us to realize what is within. When we can feel, hear, and in some instances, see the sound, there is an alignment between the energetic vibration of our inner and outer environments. That alignment informs us that we are one with the vibratory cosmic universe."
Start by hearing what you hear, by listening actively and attentively. When you listen to music, really listen. When someone is speaking, really listen. When a bird is singing, really listen. When a sound is pleasant, listen for the OM inherent in it. When a sound is unpleasant, listen for the OM inherent in it. Try to bring mindful listening to your daily life. Meditation practice -- particularly one focused on sound -- is an excellent way to cultivate nāda yoga. A practice of the Quakers is to listen for the "still, small voice within." The Truth is always speaking to us. The voice might be quiet, but it is ever present, guiding us to navigate our lives with perfect intelligence and wisdom.
(If you're interested in purchasing a copy of Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati's book, it is available here: https://sanskritstudies.org/product-category/books).