What is it about “deep listening” and “silent observation” that makes it the basis of all meditative practices?
How do we listen more deeply to ourselves, to others and to nature in this age of short attention span and information overload?
Let’s find out the answers by tapping into the wisdom of the Aboriginal tribe “Ngangikurungkurr” – one of the oldest tribes in Australia located on the Daly river region. Ngangikurungkurr means deep water sounds (Ngangi means sound, Kuri means water, kurr means deep).
Aboriginals believe that there is a deep spring within all of us and we can connect to it by deep listening and still awareness. This practice is known as ‘Dadirri’ (da-did-ee).
“Dadirri is inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. Dadirri recognizes the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us. This is the gift that Australia is thirsting for. It is something like what you call ‘contemplation’.” ~ said Miriam Rose Ungunmerr, Aboriginal Elder, writer and activist.
Honoring this essence inside everyone, the tribe listens deeply and non judgmentally to the other tribe members. Developing Dadirri is similar to the Buddhist practice of ‘Maitri’ which means benevolence, friendliness and loving kindness towards everyone.
The tribe believes that nature is sacred and act in ways that are in sync with natural rhythms and cycles.
Miriam explained, “Our Aboriginal culture has taught us to be still and to wait. We do not try to hurry things up. We let them follow their natural course – like the seasons.
We watch the bush foods and wait for them to ripen before we gather them. We wait for our young people as they grow, stage by stage, through their initiation ceremonies. When a relation dies, we wait a long time with the sorrow. We own our grief and allow it to heal slowly.
We wait on God, too. His time is the right time. We wait for him to make his Word clear to us. We don’t worry. We know that in time and in the spirit of Dadirri (that deep listening and quiet stillness) his way will be clear.
We are River people. We cannot hurry the river. We have to move with its current and understand its ways.”
Dadirri in today’s age of social media
In today’s age of information overload and instant gratification, we have forgotten the importance of community building and sustainable relationship with nature. The result is an epidemic of loneliness and environmental degradation.
We are faced with a paradox where in we have more tools to connect with greater number of people online on one hand and a steep increase in the number of people suffering from depression, loneliness and anxiety on the other hand.
Our brains and bodies are designed for heart-based face-to-face encounters for our overall wellbeing and development and it is time we tapped into the wisdom of the aboriginal cultures to heal ourselves and others.
Here are the five ways embracing “Dadirri” can help us to heal ourselves and others:
1) Tapping into our innermost guidance
The practice of Dadirri follows the principle of being silent, still and observing instead of questioning, rushing or seeking.
When we quiet our minds and listen deeply, our inner wisdom reveals itself to us. It comes in the form of quiet nudges or signs of the universe and if we are not present enough in the moment, we will miss the subtle signs.
We can embrace the spirit of Dadirri in the hustle bustle of our daily lives by taking out time to practice meditation – we can choose any form that resonates with us: Vipassana, Tratak, Zen or Buddhist.
Another way to incorporate Dadirri in our daily lives is by spending more time in nature – either going for a walk in the forest, for runs to your neighbor hood parks, stargazing or simply sit near a riverbank or hug a tree – the key is to simply connect with the spirit of nature with quiet awareness.
2) Safe space for release of trapped emotions in our bodies
When we undergo an immensely painful or traumatic experience, we make a subconscious decision to emotionally dissociate from the situation because we are caught off guard or we lack the necessary skills or courage required to process the overwhelming emotions.
The residual painful emotions remain stored in our bodies in the form of trauma long after the event is over physically.
Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, Boston based psychiatrist and expert on PTSD, explained, “Trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain and body.”
In order to heal fully, we need to complete the cycle of emotional healing by safely processing and releasing the emotions trapped inside our bodies. We can use Dadirri to help our loved ones overcome pain and trauma by providing this safe and compassionate space for hearing their personal and painful stories, without any fear of judgment.
When stories are shared in such an environment, they lose their emotional charge and gradually people are able to overcome the shame and pain associated with their stories and learn to accept themselves and their experiences with loving kindness.
The practice is beneficial not just for the speaker but for the listeners as well.
Archie Roach, Aboriginal Singer and Songwriter explained, “It does wonders for a person to just be still and listen to someone else talk about their life and how they probably came through things. You never know what you’ll learn.”
3) Changing Neuroplasticity of the brain – Limbic Resonance and Revision
The reason Dadirri works from a modern scientific point of view is due to the concept of Limbic Resonance and Neuroplasticity of the brain.
We are social creatures, and our nervous systems are attuned and affected by those closest, known as Limbic Resonance. When we interact with the ones we feel safe and cared for, there is a release of chemicals like dopamine in the limbic region of our brain.
The limbic region of the brain also has the capacity to heal the ones we love as they heal us known as Limbic Revision. When a traumatized person experiences deep, compassionate and nonjudgmental listening, his traumatized limbic system gets a perfect model of loving acceptance, it changes the brain and creates new neural pathways.
Neurons mirror this outer loving and compassionate attitude and fire internally in the same way. And due to neuroplasticity, new circuits are formed in the brain and this neural rewiring helps the person who has suffered trauma to adopt a new attitude towards the experience.
4) Experience interconnectedness of all things
The spirit of Dadirri lies in recognizing the inner spring that lies within all of us, whether you call it spirit, God, or your higher self.
When we realize the real essence of who we are and how we are interconnected with everything in the cosmos, we do not feel like a fragment separated from the universe.
We develop an attitude of loving kindness and inclusion towards everything around us. We understand that the universe contains a greater intelligence and we develop deep faith in life and interconnectedness of all things.
5) Deep listening used in counseling
The best gift that we can give to someone is our undivided attention and deep listening.
When we listen to someone with full concentration,we are able to understand their real needs, thoughts and feelings and we can respond effectively instead of reacting.
But attentive listening has become a lost art in today’s fast paced world and digital age. We have so much noise and distraction around (facebook, whatsapp etc…) that we have no mental or emotional space to listen to someone with full concentration.
When we listen to someone, we are either busy on our phones or interrupt them midway to express our opinions and thoughts. We just hear the words and not the person behind the words. This leads to so many communication and relationship breakdowns in today’s age.
In fact deep listening has become so rare that most people experience it in only a counseling environment. When they are sitting in front of a counselor, is really the first time in their lives where they feel truly heard in an open and non judgmental environment.
“Therapeutic listening is a complex and difficult task that takes time to gather in feelings, thoughts and the unspoken, silent, visceral experiences shared by the client and the therapist. Therapists not only listen to silences but may also use silences to convey empathy, facilitate reflection, challenge the client to take responsibility, facilitate expression of feelings, or take time for themselves to think of what to say, while also evaluating the client’s silence.” explains Rhonda Wooldridge, Counselor and Psychotherapist.
Now that we know that deep listening is so therapeutic and can do wonders for our relationships, how can we incorporate it in our daily lives?
This is a small practice that I follow before starting any important communication. I take a few moments to feel calm, centered and non judgmental state of mind. Then I try to create an environment of minimal distractions and listen with my whole being to the other person.
I notice the body language, tone of voice, the silent gaps because all these non verbal communication signs convey a lot more than the words. Following this practice has helped me to avoid potential miscommunications and deepened my relationships, both personally and professionally.
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