The Art of Listening 2: Are You a Serial Monologist?

In last week’s post we discussed why the ego is the single most important factor that limits how far you can go, how much you can achieve.

We talked about how most people don’t really listen to anyone other than themselves, but that if you do start listening then a wider reality will reveal itself to you.

This is also when your success barriers start to evaporate.

Chances are that my claims seem exaggerated; after all, we do kind of listen to others already.

Don’t we?

Don’t we?

My contention is: no, we don’t. Not really. Most of us are non-listeners.

Non-listening comes in various categories:

The first category of non-listening is the most obvious: it is the person who mainly talks about him or herself and will only allow subjects of conversation that he or she approves of. These topics are usually directly or indirectly about him or how he wishes to see himself. If you try to change the subject or interrupt his stream of words, he simply raises his voice and talks over you. Let’s call this person the Conversational Dictator.

The second category is the one that probably most of us belong to: this is the person who politely stays quiet while their conversation partner is talking; however they’re really only pretending to listen. What they are actually doing is thinking of what to say when it’s their turn. We will call this person the Serial Monologist, because if you break down what they say, you will find a monologue divided into little snippets.

The third category of non-listening is a bit more advanced: this person actually hears what is being said a lot of the time. However, the person often finds fault with what the other person is saying, whether they keep this fault-finding to themselves or declare it openly and frankly. The trouble is that they judge what the other person is saying based upon their own standards and conception of reality. So let’s call this person the Judge.

The Judge often feels that he is the only ones who listens.To an extent he is right, because most people don’t hear other people as much as the Judge does; however at the same time he is not right, because at the end of the day he too is self-directed; he may not talk as much as other people because he has realised – at least to a certain extent – that no one is listening anyway. However he is talking to himself most of the time, passing judgement silently. The Judge wishes that others would be more like him, because then finally he would be understood, and it would be possible to have a real conversation.

The trouble with this idea is that if indeed the Judge were surrounded by other Judges, they too would be judging him based on their standards and concepts of reality, which would probably be different from his.

So what does it take to actually listen? That’s for the next post. But here’s a hint:

It’s painful.

The Art of Listening

a good listener?

Chances are you’re not.

Please don’t take this personally; I’m not talking about you in particular. What I am referring to is that statistically most people are bad listeners, or not listeners at all.

This was a realisation that crept up on me as I worked on my new book, which is about finding your essential identity through taking action.

As I worked on the book, I took pains to describe the obstacles that you will encounter along your way.

I think this is important because I don’t believe in just focusing on the positive; I believe it is important to stay positive, but to be aware of potential obstacles and the risk of failure.

As I wrote, researched and made reference to my own experiences of achievement and failure, the obstacle that showed up chapter after chapter in a legion of different disguises was the ego.

To a great extent, we have all the tools we need to accomplish anything we want, and to go anywhere we choose. In many cases, we are offered exactly what we need every single day.

The trouble is that most of us consistently ignore these gifts. The reason for this is that we are largely under the hegemony of our ego.

What is an ego?

My definition of ego is that it is that part of us that is obsessed with our own identity. Every time someone says anything to us, our ego’s first reaction is to think, “What does this say about me?”

I don’t know if you have ever had the following experience (I know I have):

You tell someone about something that is happening in your life, or something general even. You are not making reference to them; you are talking about you, and you just feel like sharing.

And yet the person gets offended. They somehow manage to interpret what you said as being about them. Sometimes the leap from what you said to their interpretation of what you said is incredibly long.

This is just one example of the ego’s tendency to interpret everything in the world as being about itself.

The trouble is, if you see everything around you in the light of your ego, then you will live in an extremely limited world.

Paradoxically, the most selfish thing may be to let go of your ego a little bit, because the breathing space you will gain can take you to the most marvellous places. The world is far bigger than we generally think.

A highly effective doorway to this wider reality is listening.

Listening is an art. It takes practice. And the most challenging part of that practice is overcoming yourself.

But that is for another post.

Learn more about this subject here.

Journal of a Literary Traveller 2: Beautiful Café in Barcelona

Today I visited one of the most beautiful cafés I have ever entered.

I spent all week working on my new novel and hardly talking to a living soul. I found my resulting hermetic and dopaminergic state of mind highly conducive to writing, but when the weekend arrived I told myself it was time to visit the outside world.

So last night I went to a bar.

Well, that is to say, most of the evening saw me sitting in my cold flat wearing two sweaters and a blanket, drinking tea, chattering my teeth and procrastinating with Youtube videos, reasoning that I couldn’t go out because I don’t know anyone in Barcelona.

In the end, however, I became so hungry that I managed to boot myself out of the door to search for food.

After eating, I forced myself into a bar. I was feeling seclusive and sleepy, and I didn’t want to be there. But I forced myself to talk to strangers. As a man, no one will seek you out. Your entire life can pass without anything happening except for winning second prize in an online game tournament or something. If you want to see the world you must take initiative. I had an image in my mind of Barcelona remaining closed to me as I work on my novel, and that when I leave in a couple of months, I will only know the route between my apartment and the supermarket. I was determined to destroy that image. So I looked around, opened my mouth and said whatever came to mind.

The first people I talked to were not very friendly. But as I got used to the environment, I started to relax, and conversations came naturally.

In several conversations I admitted to having written at Starbucks for the last two days because the boiler in my apartment has broken and there’s no heating or hot water. I knew it was not a fashionable thing to say, and indeed I did get chastised. “Why do you go to them and their crap coffee,” one guy told me. I looked at him, not knowing what to say. There was a pause in which we looked at each other. “We Australians don’t like chains,” he said, as if to explain himself.

“I haven’t found any other café with suitable tables and not too much noise,” I answered, feeling that my words sounded like I was apologising, although I didn’t mean to.

It is important to state things as they are, however. Even if I’m not sure I’m happy with something I’m doing, I try to make myself state it. At least among people whose opinions of me is of zero consequence to my life. Because only when things come to light is it possible to work with them.

So I persisted. And indeed, the next person I talked to, a Spanish film director, said: “No, no, no! I’ll tell you where to go!”

And so it was that today I found myself entering the Cafe d les Delicies. I was blown away by its beauty and atmosphere. Yes indeed I think I will write there more than once. Pictures are below.

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Ethics: the way to personal power (3)

The Golden Rule

The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.

– William Blake

This is part three in a series of blogs about how personal ethics can help you become indestructible in an increasingly chaotic world.

I ended the last instalment by asking how you may construct an ethical code and what it will do for you. Let’s start with the second part: what it will do for you. This is an appropriate point of departure, because your ethical code comes from your inner core. So there could be no more solid foundation for it than what your inner core wants.

How do you envision your ideal life? This question may sound dreamy and frivolous to you; if it does, then this is part of your challenge: to unlearn the edict that you were perhaps brought up with, and perhaps programmed with by the society or culture in which you grew up: that “real life” and your dream life are two completely different concepts that can never meet.

Getting to know your ideal life is probably the single most important thing you can do on your way to discovering your own ethical code. Because even if you ignore your vision of your ideal life, as many people do, it will continue to lurk in the shadows, and will be the true standard against which your soul – as opposed to other people and your super-ego – will measure your actions. This shows you how important it is to know. Because if you don’t, you will probably just continue to violate your own standards and ignore what your intuition is telling you, because you don’t understand why your intuition is telling you to do a certain thing or to not do a certain thing, and everyone around you is demanding that you must be able to rationally defend your decisions. Under such circumstances, inner peace is impossible, because you don’t even know what standards you are striving to live up to.

So take some time to really get to know your ideal life. What does it look like? How does it feel? Who are you with? What do you have in your life? What mission are you pursuing?

Now ask yourself what kind of person you see leading this life. Are you that person, as you are now? Is your behaviour in tune with your vision? Or do you need to make some modifications?

And this is the key. Because the powerful way to get something is not by stealing it but by receiving it because it naturally belongs to you because of who you are.

It is really this simple. As soon as you congruently implement this course of action, mysterious things will begin to happen to help you achieve the life of your dreams.

Don’t be the fox who thinks the world is so complicated that he must take what is not given if he wants to survive. That path leads to fear and self-hate.

Be true to your lion heart.

God will give you the lion’s share.

 

Ethics: the way to personal power (2)

Image

From Within

The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow; nor the lion, the horse, how he shall take his prey.” – William Blake

This is part two in a series of blogs about becoming indestructible in an increasingly chaotic world.  I currently refer to this indestructibility as “personal power” because it makes you powerful within rather than giving you power over other people. This is not a term that I have invented, but it is useful for the present exposition.

I concluded part one of this series by discarding morality as a source of personal power. I defined morality as behavioural codes that your parents, society, or the culture you were brought up in, want you to adopt to the extent that they become internalised edicts about what is right and what is wrong.

I showed how these edicts drain us of power because we invariably break them and then cover our infractions with explanations that we know won’t stand up to the light of day. This is how morality turns us into base, frightened people who shun the light and even our own shadow.

Is that who You want to be?

What is more attractive to you, and what do You feel is strongest and most indestructible? Truth or lies? Double-standard explanations or straight talk?

I knew you would say that. I knew it because we all instinctively recognise the power of someone who is being authentic. Ok then, so why are you on the side of the lies and double-standard explanations?

Well, it’s not as easy, not as simple as that.

The fact is, for most of us grown-up people, authenticity is a lofty and challenging goal. Our lives have become too complicated to match the blueprint we adopted as children or live up to the morality we were inducted with.

It seems to be a strange state of affairs. Most of us are not murderers or grand-scale criminals. So why do we feel so guilty that we prefer to live a lie rather than simply being who we are? And what is the answer to our predicament? Do we simply need to redouble our efforts to lead a moral life? Well, in order to rectify a symptom we need to understand its causes.

The reason almost all of us are in breach of morality in this world, the reason almost all of us are either struggling morally with ourselves or lying to ourselves and others, is that whichever moral code we were implanted with, it did not originate from within our own hearts. It is incompatible with who we are, no matter how well we may have internalised it.

So here is the key: the way to personal power is to have and observe a code that originates from within Yourself. I will call this code Ethics, and its observance living an ethical life.

So how do you construct such an ethical code and how do you observe it? How does an ethical life protect you, and what sorts of effects can you expect to encounter if you choose this path? These are some of the topics of the next installments in this series.

Ethics: the way to personal power (1)

The lives of others

As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.” – William Blake

As a child, it always seemed to me that people who spoke of morality were trying to impose rules on lives they knew nothing about.

I would hear not only that I should behave in a certain way, but that we all should. It used to be a favourite sport of mine to unveil behaviour among such proponents of morality (usually teachers or writers of children’s books), that would contradict their own edicts.
To me there was something intrinsically unpalatable about morality as it was served to me; the idea that someone who didn’t know or understand me would know what was best for me just seemed too much of an imposition. I felt that as a child I was powerless to resist the fixed idea that most grown-ups seemed to share: that children are put into the world to be patronised.

Then I myself grew up. Morality was no longer preached to me to nearly the same extent; it was assumed that I would have internalised it by now. And indeed I had, to a very great extent. To my own detriment, I might add.

Dear reader, please note that I am writing about myself to bring you closer to me, to allow you to see parallels between the process of your own mental configuration and mine, without me imposing my conclusions on you. Please note that as I write about myself it is You I am attempting to reach.

The idea I am trying to expound is that morality – the values of others – is imposed upon us, and that we grow up taking certain behaviours for granted while rejecting others as unacceptable. And then we wake up one day to find that we are practising those very behaviours that we reject.

Our explanation in such cases must be that the behaviour in question is generally unacceptable, but that in this special case it is understandable or perhaps even necessary. However, such explanations always feel unsatisfactory; we mumble them to ourselves and perhaps to others, but we have a feeling that they will petrify and crack if exposed to the full light of day.

In other words, such double-standard explanations make us afraid of the light, afraid of the truth. They make us creep about, uncomfortably aware of our own shadow, and it just won’t go away. In short, they make us weak and divided. That is not the way to personal power.

So what is?

For the answer to this question and more, please see the next installment.