Oh how hard it is to hear and be heard

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve long been fascinated by right speech and right listening (see post). The more I’ve contemplated communication the more I’m amazed sometimes that we ever understand one another at all. For instance in my latest post on my other blog I poke fun at the way southerners react to winter weather. In this case even though we’re from the same country and basically speak the same language, our life experiences concerning snow are so different that we don’t understand one another’s views.

I can stand back and take in the usual explanation, that they just don’t get snow as often nor as much so they’re not used to it. OK, up to a point I get that. But then I start reasoning, “But even if you’ve never dealt with 10” of snow, how can you not see that 1” is just not a big deal?  Even if you’re afraid of snow how can you not see that a road wet from snow flurries is the same as a road wet from rain.?  How does a wet road not equal a wet road just because you’re from the south?” Clearly there’s a level on which my experience (and my mind’s attachment to what it knows) leaves me unable to comprehend what they see and feel when it snows. And the people who are scared by conditions here cannot figure out why I don’t see the danger that’s making them cancel all plans and refuse to leave the house.*

There are so many world views that arise from different experiences. Class, region, culture, religion, country, career—all carry sets of beliefs and views of life that often are incomprehensible to others.  I’ve seen a number of couples founder because the poor origins of one and the rich background of the other led to such radically different assumptions about money and how to handle it that they couldn’t find a way to reconcile. We see labor and management failing to see each others’ point of view all the time. When it comes to foreigners it’s almost impossible for lots of people to comprehend or accept ways and mores that are unlike theirs.

A big key to right speech and right listening so that you reach true understanding is being able to step out of your set beliefs and opinions so that you can really hear the other person. When it comes to the beliefs that are ingrained in your story from birth—like north or south, middle class or rich, Guatemalan or Balinese, Muslim or Hindu, etc.–they’re built so deep into your being that you often don’t realize that you have them or that they don’t represent an absolute truth. It takes a lot of questioning to find and release those beliefs that are woven into the tapestry of your being, especially since they’re often held by lots of people around you. The more we can release of those views or at least step aside from them in conversation the more we can listen and find the place where our hearts connect instead of focusing on how we differ.

*  Not talking about the mountains here as driving on curvy roads that meander up and down when it’s slick is its own story…

Changing your mind


Even when you’ve released a lot of issues your thoughts are likely to have both residue from those issues and many tapes still playing based on lots of beliefs you’ve taken in from childhood on. While I’ve never found that repeating affirmations and/or positive thinking alone can turn around all those thoughts, I think you can have a big impact on your patterns of thinking by what you choose to focus upon.


Most traditions have affirmations (though not always by the same name) and I like them for helping my mind to form new channels. When I am aware of particular negative patterns in my thinking I like to write a “turnaround” affirmation and to stay mindful enough to notice every time the old tapes start running so I can repeat the affirmation instead. It really helps me to form new patterns.


I also keep some tapes of things like Louise Hay‘s affirmations and excerpts of the Course in Miracles around so that I can run some positive thinking in the background. And I like to watch DVD’s like What the Bleep or You Can Heal Y our Life when I feel like I need a new direction for my thoughts or maybe just because I want to reinforce my beliefs.

Cover of "What the Bleep Do We Know!?"

Cover of What the Bleep Do We Know!?



I live in a place where my beliefs are far from the norm. All these tools really help me to hold my space in the midst of a maelstrom of attitudes and opinions that are very opposed to mine. It’s given me a new appreciation for what the Buddhists call Sangha. Traditionally it was a spiritual community like a monastery or ashram where people who shared a system of beliefs lived together and supported one another in practice and spiritual progress. It can also mean any community of like-minded people who support one another on their path.


When I lived in Marin I had an apartment at a teacher’s house and was so surrounded by sacred events and like-minded friends that I could hold the space for my beliefs without thinking about it. Since I’ve moved to a place where I’m often surrounded by people who don’t share my beliefs I’ve found I have to consciously work at keeping supporting thoughts around me and the moments I share with the friends who are also on this journey are among the most precious I have.


Whatever your circumstances it never hurts to reinforce positive thinking by reading, watching and/or listening to materials that support a world view like yours. And I encourage you to find others who share your views, preferably locally so you can have face-to-face encounters but reach out on blogs or Ning networks for support from a virtual sangha if you can’t find one near you. The energy of two or more sharing their beliefs is a powerful support on the journey to peace.