Buddhist-Christian Studies Article: Deep Listening

In Volume 35 (2015) of Buddhist-Christian Studies, Lama Willa discusses discusses how the the effectiveness of educators, ministers, and dharma teachers might be enhanced by training in the art of listening.

Lama Willa Thumbnail SizeLike an Elephant Pricked by a Thorn:
Buddhist Meditation Instructions as a Door to Deep Listening
Willa B. Miller

The phrase “deep listening” has been circulating in recent years in the contexts of contemplative education, psychotherapy, pastoral care, and the arts. This article is a reflection on deep listening from a Buddhist perspective, as it might support the ongoing development of career educators, although this reflection might apply equally well to ministers and (in the Buddhist world) dharma teachers. My motivation to contribute to this discourse of listening is spurred by the belief that the effectiveness of educators, ministers, and dharma teachers might be enhanced by training in the art of listening. These career professionals share a key aspect of their role in common: They get up in front of groups of people to teach or preach. In this performative role, it is possible for teachers (or preachers) to become so accustomed to being the source of information that a dynamic is created, inside and outside the classroom or pulpit, in which discourse is weighted primarily in one direction. This dynamic, I would argue, prevents optimal learning and stunts the feedback loop necessary for pedagogical health, both for students and for their educators.

Listening, as a valued pedagogical discipline on the part of the teacher, has the potential to rebalance this dynamic. To educate effectively, we need to come to know the hearts and minds of those we educating, not as a theoretical group but as individuals. It takes time, effort, patience, and a dose of curiosity to listen attentively to students, to get to know them. But this effort is worth it. Only once we begin to listen to the voice of their interests, passions, and history can we begin to understand or assess their needs. Every human being is in formation. Every human being is completely unique. Listening, with curiosity and attention, is a window into the formation of the human being in his or her uniqueness. To the degree that we become familiar with the unique in our students is the degree to which we can effectively meet them where they are.

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