This past week, Benjamin and I hosted the Rhizome Theater Company at our home in Maine. The Rhizomes describe themselves as “a group of artists committed to sowing the seeds of social cohesion, awareness and empathy through live documentary theater.”
But what the Rhizomes really do is listen.
The Rhizomes listen to people talk about their lives. Then, from hours of recorded conversations with a vast array of humans, they tease out bits of pathos, humor and wisdom to create moving, thought-provoking, original theater.
Over dinner one night, I asked our new friends to describe what listening means to them. They all agreed that distinguishing between hearing, an involuntary, neurological response to sound waves, and listening is primary.
For them, listening is a full body experience that involves all the senses. It is a resonance that constellates between people. An exchange of energy. A hum in the air. Something comes to life that wasn’t there before.
As activists dedicated to healing the wounds of community fragmentation and social divisiveness, they have discovered that listening doesn’t just happen. It is a conscious practice. It is a skill that must be developed, cultivated and honed.
As I reflect on their words, I’m struck by how relevant their experience as artists and performers is to my own experience in the treatment room. How many times has a patient told me that something powerful happened for them just from my attentive listening? How many times has the treatment process shifted when I notice the grief beneath the laugh or the rage beneath the resigned sigh?
To listen beyond the words, to follow the arc of the emotion all the way to a person’s soul … this is what allows us to recognize the poem, the dream, the riddle, the secret embedded in the case history. This listening is what allows us to move beyond the limits of the physical body and enter the sacred space of spirit level healing.
Small Intestine 19 – Listening Palace – ting gong 聽 宫
In traditional Chinese medicine, the distinction between hearing and listening comes under the jurisdiction of the Small Intestine Official, the Separator of the Pure from the Impure, the Heart’s closest minister.
The Small Intestine’s job is to sort through the barrage of information that comes at us from the outer environment and to recognize what is of true relevance to our own Heart. If we imagine the Heart as a monarch seated on a throne at the center of our being, the Small Intestine is like the monarch’s private secretary who appraises every piece of correspondence to determine if is worthy of the Heart’s attention. In order to fulfill this function, the Small Intestine must be able to sift through the infinite cacophony of impressions to discern the purest essences, the thing that will bring us closer to our authentic nature – our tao. In other words, the Small Intestine’s job is to listen.
The central seat of this minister rests just in front of the ear and its name is ting gong Listening Palace. On the right side of the ancient character ting 聽 is the character de virtue 德. This affirms for us the spiritual significance that the ancient Chinese ascribed to the act of listening. The presence of the radical de tells us that listening is a virtue, a defining quality of a truly engaged human, a hallmark of a sage.
And tucked away at the bottom of the character de is the radical xin 心 the Heart.
So, the character tells us that when we touch this point, we are inviting a person to listen to the world as if the Heart is at the center.
Consider this point:
- when you are unable to distinguish between the gold and the dross in your life
- when you are overloaded with information and unable to make sense of it
- when the Fire Element’s capacity to connect, communicate and relate to another is impaired by emotional tone deafness
- when you have forgotten how to hear your own music
- when you want to engage the Small Intestine’s capacity for true empathy: to get as close as you possibly can to another person while always remembering that you are not them
In this moment, wherever you are as you read these words, stop and place the tips of your fingers in the slight depression just in front of your ears and listen to the sounds around you.
Out of this tapestry of sound, find one sound … a voice outside the window, a footfall on a stair, a honking horn, sunlight on the sidewalk, a bird on a branch, a cloud passing, a star falling in a galaxy far far away … and offer this sound as a gift to your Heart.
Notice how your thoughts clear as you open this point, how something shifts as hearing becomes listening, how you enter a different kind of presence, how for a moment you recall the sacredness of the world around you.
You have just opened the door to the Heart.
You have touched the Spirit of the Point of the Listening Palace.
If you are called to hone your skills as a listener and an agent of transformational change in the treatment room and in the world, we invite you to join our Level 1 Alchemical Healing Mentorship that begins in October. We have just a few spots remaining. Contact us with questions or register here.