Concentration and Sravana

Concentration and Sravana

We seldom realise the power of listening for improving our power of concentration.

In our highly distracted world, most of us are hearing alright, but very few are listening. Listening is an art and there is a yogic practice to perfect this art. At its root, even being alert in meditation is nothing but carefully listening to your mind.

The Sanskrit term for listening is śravaṇa. The practice of listening is a simple and powerful way to  build your concentration.The one who practices the art of listening undergoes a rapid transformation in their ability to remain concentrated.

Listening requires that you be alert and attentive in the present moment. Let us say you are attending a lecture in some class on Marketing.

If you are not paying attention, in other words not listening, to what the lecturer is saying, sitting in the class is anything but useful. To know what the teacher is saying, you have to listen, and in order to listen, you have to pay attention.

That is concentration

Buddha's Advice

A man approached Buddha once and said, “I want to become wise. Please tell me how I operate better in the world? What do I do to not mess up my relationships?”

Buddha spoke, “It is very simple. You only have to be mindful of two things –  listen attentively to others  when they are talking, and  even more attentively to yourself when you are talking.”

The practice of listening does not require that you sit in a meditative posture. You can do it multiple times in a day. You could even do it  while driving or commuting. The simple way to do this right is:

  • Put on your favourite song, at home, while driving, jogging, anywhere.
  • Promise yourself that you will pay full attention to the song. 
  • Listen to the song with complete mindfulness and alertness.

This is the art of active listening. This is the practice in a nutshell.

Put on your favourite song and make it a point to listen to every word in that song. It is not as easy as it sounds. How many times have you found yourself playing your favourite song with the intention to listen to it fully only to find a few minutes later that the song has already finished? You probably replay the song to hear it again. Even with the most melodious song, it takes certain training for the mind to stay at it.

You may listen to the whole of the first stanza, parts of the second stanza but somewhere in between the first and the last, your mind wanders off. You stand unaware. In the practice of listening, bring the act of listening to the forefront of your mind. You do that by listening attentively. When practising listening, avoid leaving it playing in the background.

Doing that will actually weaken and dilute your concentration. Just putting on music and not listening to it makes your mind used to living with noise. Many put their headphones on and start reading a book. If you ask them five hours later, chances are they are unable to recall the reading in detail or the songs they played.

If you train your mind to live with diluted concentration, meditation, and subsequently tranquility, becomes increasingly harder. In olde days, when there were no headphones or portable music systems, people would put on music, and the only act they would do was to listen to that music. While reading, they would only read. Multitasking, the mantra of today's world, plays havoc.

On your concentration

Once you learn to do a single task properly, doing many things at once will become easier and effective. And, if you think you can multitask, try juggling with three oranges.

Concentration without meditation is pointless, and meditation without concentration is useless. Both are not possible without mastering the art of listening. Whether that is listening to external sound or inner noise, outer world or inner thoughts, it is all the same.

Patanjali Yogasutra refers to this vigorous enthusiasm in the sutra 1.21 that says, tīvra samvegānām āsannah, meaning the one who is firmly established in the practices with vigour and intensity reaches the goal before long.

There is a Turkish proverb that says, “If speaking is silver, then listening is gold”.  Nature gave us two ears but only one tongue, which is a gentle hint that we should listen more than we talk. “Through listening, all separation between the observer and the observed comes to an end”, says a philosopher.

'A Million Thoughts' by Om Swami.

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