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Whole Body Listening

Whole Body Listening

Whole Body Listening

An exercise in life-awareness.


You may have noticed how gazing through a lighted window creates shapes in the eyes that show up when you look aside to a darker wall. If not, try this sometime. It’s particularly effective where glazing bars form a pattern in a window and if you can see blue sky outside. Fix your eyes on a crossing point of the bars and do not shift them for a full minute or two then shift to an area of blank wall, preferably without strong colour and see what you see. Where the dark glazing bars were is now a pattern of light lines, where the patches of bright blue sky was now patches of darker colour, maybe even reddish orange appear before your eyes.

This primary example of an “after-image” can be repeated with the other senses too. Sit in quiet contemplation with your fingers resting on a table for a minute or two then lift your fingers and allow your attention to go into them. Notice how the smooth contact of the wood is replaced with a tingling sensation. Or take off your shoes, put your feet up and ‘listen’ in to your feet for a moment that tingling shows you just here your shoes were, there is a distinct ‘no-shoe-shaped’ after-image in your feet.  Ring a bell or pluck a string (Sounding Bowls are particularly good for this, the long sustain on their notes and rich harmonic series creates good after-images) and listen as the sound gently fades, listen carefully, finding the point where you actually can’t hear it any more. You may notice the after-image of the sound rising inside you, gently filling your inner hearing such that the actual moment of fading becomes imprecise. All these effects vary from person to person, each of us has different levels and different patterns of almost physical response to sense impressions. All of the five senses offer us such after-images and if you pay close attention you can discover your own personal response to the world in even deeper ways. It is the Life within us that responds like this. In the Far East this is called Chi, In European tradition it is called Etheric. Noticing what is happening here puts us in touch with this level of awareness.

If you are working with Sounding Bowls this kind of slowed down, deep listening also puts you in touch with how your body is responding to the body of the Bowl, the wood it is made of. Different woods leave different after-images as do different notes and different tunings. Discovering more of the deep effect of your Sounding Bowl in this way can also alert you to the healing potential of aspects of working with it through the response you find in your own body

All of these after-image responses lie below our normal judgement response to the world. Judgement happens on another level (the Astral) and follows on to the deep response of the after-image. Some judgement awakens a feeling in us. If this feeling has associated fears we may react in a quick and defensive manner. If the feelings awakened in us are not so fear-based a thinking response is the next level. Thus all sense impressions rise up through our response systems and may then descend into action again if that is felt to be needed. Touching into the lower levels, the earliest responses and bringing them to consciousness gives us a freedom of choice and depth of understanding that is easily missed if we follow our habituated patterns.

After-images rise up following any interaction with the world. Becoming conscious of our five senses and the after images that arise there slowly leads us to discover more. A piece of music, for example leaves us with distinct musical responses in our deep self that live below the feeling response, below what we normally take notice of. A visit to the sea, if we are not shore-dwellers leaves just such an impression in our state-of-being. Meeting or interacting with another person also brings things to life within us. It is the unique and personal nature of these deep responses that makes up much of what is truly individual within us. The gifts that each person brings to the world, even beyond their individual talents lie in the fact that we all see things from a unique perspective. Bringing our own perspective to things often completes a picture out of which others may be working, enabling good things to happen, light to shine in what may have been a confusing moment.

Teaching ourselves full body listening lies partly in taking notice of our after-image responses, partly in letting go of the racing thoughts that normally fill our attention and partly in quieting fears and other aspects of feeling that draw us away from attention to our own deep nature. Working with another person one can apply this deep listening mutually, slowing down ones reactions, learning a steadiness of attention both inwardly and outwardly. Here is a method of co-meditation on attention to the moment that develops full body listening.

Sit comfortably face to face with another, closeness helps focussed attention. Begin with your eyes closed, focussing your attention on your centre, on your moment to moment state of being. When you feel present and grounded in yourself open your eyes and gaze at the other person. Looking at another person tends to bring up all sorts of social responses, notice any desire to nod, smile or make social contact, just allow the image of this person to be part of your attention, keep the other part of your attention on your own responses. If you feel yourself flowing out into habitual social behaviours or in any way losing contact with your own inward attention close your eyes again for a moment until you have regained that basis in self-awareness. If their eyes are closed notice how your feelings change when they open. To have another human being in front of you, especially meeting you eye to eye is a wonder, notice the profound responses occurring on so many levels of your being. It may be the person in front is well known to you, notice how different it is to do such an exercise than meet them on the everyday level. At any moment you could close your eyes again to check more firmly on any after-images arising in you. Notice again on opening them how finding this person still there, gazing at you affects your responses.

Now take the exercises to a different level. Speak one of your observations from within. Keep these to direct observations so that the mind does not get involved in philosophising nor the emotions enter into any social exchange. It might be ‘my knee aches’ or ‘my vision goes fuzzy, holding this gaze’ but it could also be ‘I feel awkward doing this’ or  ‘a profound sense of gratitude rises in me holding this space with you.’ Typically, on hearing ourselves spoken to we begin to respond. Don’t let this become a conversation. Sit with what you have heard, the sense it made, notice your own inner responses, after-images, feelings, impulses, ideas arising and just be aware, clock them. Then when you have let each one rise up and die down again consider what you might speak. Keep it to a direct sensation, even if that is as complex as ‘when you mentioned your knee mine began to ache too.’ This is not a conversation in the sense that what we say arises from what the other spoke. This is a dialogue in that both have the time and attention of the other, yet everything that is said is an observation of our inner responses. In this way we are training ourselves to take the space to notice our genuine response, we are learning to act out of our own unique inner life, we are holding back from reacting to what we hear and what we think it means and offering instead a considered piece of our own presence-in-the-moment. Noticing how we feel in the presence of this other, noticing our deep response to the words of another we learn more about them through learning more about our own inner mirror. This exercise in deep, full body listening teaches us to listen first to ourselves and then more deeply to the other than we might ever have done before, possibly even when we were first in love. We may notice that when we listen to another we hear first their voice, the timbre of their body speaking. We hear next their words, words without context mean very little, almost nothing. We may notice how the meaning assembles itself almost as an after-image within us, this is our meaning that we are giving to these words, it may or may not be what the other wanted to convey, and when we do understand them we notice how a deepening of our perception of who they are takes place. These four stages of any spoken communication that we normally rush unconsciously through my be followed up if we notice how our feelings respond to the other, either flowing out or settling back and how if we re-enter our own stillness a new image arises that somehow gives the other more space.

These and many more are experiences that slowly bring us deeper and deeper into our own true self. Strengthening our Presence in ourselves, making us more available in everyday life yet less likely to be drawn into over-extending into it. This is Consciousness Soul. Being the person in whom the thought is arising, Being the person having the experience rather than a tool of the experience itself. More than knowing who we are this is becoming who we are through listening to the world that we are in.


Exercises described here may form part of workshops and events offered by Tobias. See Events and Centre

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