I’ve always had an affinity for the idea of a “still, small voice” within, a form of inner guidance that requires vigilance in order to hear its whisperings. The fact that it is both “still” and “small” suggests that I have to lean in, be intimate with that voice, and listen closely. Inner listening is, I think, at the heart of both yoga and meditation, and my experience is that it evolves as practice deepens.
When I first began to practice yoga, I learned how to listen to my body and its needs. “Stretch this way,” it murmured, “but not too much.” I could miss those inner messages entirely if I approached my practice as one more thing on my to-do list. But they would speak clearly if I entered postures mindfully, stayed connected to my breath, and took my time to ease into each warm-up, movement, and pose.
Receiving the wisdom of my own body was the first gift that inner listening bestowed, and it allowed me to be fully present on my mat when I practiced, noticing every nuance of sensation. Over time, as my practice matured, I learned a different kind of inner listening. The content of my mind revealed itself. I heard my self-talk clearly for the first time and learned to be the non-reactive witness to self-judgment, fear, and a wide range of emotional states.
I discovered that I could sit quietly and listen while my mind slowly emptied itself of its stories. When I chose not to believe the stories, when I chose to just listen and not get hooked, they shifted and changed. Rage melted into sadness. Self-judgment gave way to compassion. Not a single mind state lasted.
As I honed my inner listening capacities, they gave me easy access to intuition. I learned to pay attention to those little nudges of insight and knowing that are frustratingly easy to ignore. A recent, and rather dramatic example of this came on the afternoon that superstorm Sandy hit the Berkshires. As I looked out the window at my car, something in me whispered, “Move it now.” I moved the car to a place with no trees nearby, and an hour later, a massive oak fell just feet from where my car had been parked. I was grateful that I had not only listened, but acted on what I heard.
Inner listening eventually led me on a new and more creative journey. I still don’t know where poems come from, but I do know that they require me to pay close attention to what arises inside. In the middle of a yoga pose, in the midst of meditation, while driving to the grocery store or walking through the woods in fresh snow, the first line of every poem I’ve ever written began as a barely audible whisper. My inner ears are well trained now after years of writing. When words float to the surface unbidden, I am riveted. I let them spin their images and metaphors, ready to pick up a pen at a moment’s notice, willing to be the scribe for that quiet voice within.
In the evolution of inner listening, I sense I’m now at another juncture. I yearn to listen not just to my body and its sensations, to my self-talk, thoughts, emotions, intuition, and creative urges, but to the source of all these things. I long to go deeper, to listen with my whole being. What do I mean by that? Just asking the question requires me to sink into inner experience and receive my entirety: body, mind, heart, soul, spirit, and divinity, fully alive and awake.
Listen with my whole being? I haven’t got a clue how to do this, but one morning as I sit in meditation, I hear that inner voice. I pick up a pen and begin to write: Listen with your whole being by relaxing completely. By receiving whatever comes without question, doubt, or fear. By knowing that what goes on here is holy. By trusting inner prompts and subtle experience. By letting yourself be guided from inside. By breathing deeply. By consciously being the interface between human and divine. By honoring the natural dialogue that takes place all the time between you, the universe, and life. By letting your small self melt into the embrace of something so much greater.
Yes. This is it. To listen with my whole being requires letting go of the known and following a path that reveals itself moment by moment. It’s surrendering into a dialogue with life as it truly is—not how I wish it to be. It’s allowing me, the listener, to dissolve into divinity and realize that separation is a myth. This inner listening isn’t a passive thing. It’s an opening, an expansion, a giving over, a letting go of the most radical sort. It is awareness waking up and growing vast, vast, infinitely vast.
I trust that this mystery of inner listening will keep nudging me forward as it―and I―continue to evolve. What I find so reassuring is that the clues pointing the way to my next step on the journey are already inside me. All that is required is to grow quiet, listen closely, and receive.
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