Divided Attention Is An Authentic Practice of Radical Open Listening

Updated: Nov 25, 2020


A Practice is Experiential Learning


To practice offers experiential learning. It is doing in a way that brings experience to something one is attending to. And, it is a process of gathering experiences from which one learns.


Practice occurs in authentic inquiry, because one applies experience to learning, and is transformed by it. So anyone who develops mastery does so by intentional practice. The integration of it all is how what is learned automatically transforms from "doing to being."


Transforming Our Automatic Listening


So the possibility for mastery of radical open listening is related to a practice that transforms passive listening for information into the experience of listening to the other person as an active process.  Thus it transforms itself from being an abstraction about listening to the actual practice of listening.


What is "the doing" of listening? An action occurs in which the speaking of a speaker is really understood and not just perceived. The observer’s interpretations are suspended, which alters how what is heard is understood. It is distinct from the listener's automatic listening and interpretations from language alone.  What is heard instead is a perception of the other.  This is possible because of divided attention, which separates interpretation from perception. Human beings will still make meaning, however, that can occur independently of our perception. maybe even simultaneously in our listening at multiple levels.


The Quality of Our Listening is in Our Attention


The subject of attention is rarely addressed. However, attention as an action accompanies all of our waking consciousness.  This is typically passive attention.  It is usually either given to or taken by objects which exist either physically in nature or virtually in our abstractions. Thus attention is almost always conditioned, and rarely if ever free from its objects.


When attention is absent as an experience of listening, the mind is drifting because the mind itself is inseparable from its objects. It is preoccupied with its own thoughts, and its linguistic labeling of its perceptions. Free attention would be a unique state of consciousness because the mind is passive and yet attentive consciousness still remains active.


A Free and Un-Conditioned Attention is Possible


Said another way, this open listening can occur when attention is free and not conditioned? However, as human beings, we experience mostly our conditioned consciousness. Associative thinking occurs either through its memory of identifications, or its interpretations and stories. These perceptually constrain us from seeing and hearing directly and thus being with others without adding our own established contexts.


So, how do we inquire into this free attention in an authentic way of listening?  For an authentic inquiry, practice is required. But what is a practice that leads to the capacity to listen in this way?  There must be an action to it, or it is just an abstraction about listening. What is this action?


One is faced with the automatic nature of our listening which is already a conditioned one. The passive nature of our listening has been conditioned since birth. So, our automatic listening must be incorporated in our experience, and yet at the same time, set aside to allow for a different possibility for listening. The phenomenological practice of bracketing  (Husserl) is such a process because it is an exercise in the virtualization of a new perception.  But this is also an abstraction because we do not know how to bracket!  The action must somehow involve a division of attention that allows for being with another person while detaching from interpretation. Can we practice attending in this way?


Divided Attention is the Access to Radical Open Listening as a Practice


A useful practice of divided attention can be found through the sensation of the body, which is always present. The capacity to become conscious of the body is the experience of attention being present in the body. It is a capacity that we can develop. If we can do this while listening, speaking, or acting we begin to condition it so that open listening becomes more automatic. This use of sensation could provide a reference point for divided attention. In this way, we are actualizing the bracketed interpretations. They begin to be observable. The presence of a new observer allows for the kind of doing that radical open listening is. The constitution of the observer becomes observable. There is a possibility now for a practice through which inquiry can occur as q first-person experience which can be verified in a knower's subjective experience.


© Copyright 2014 Robert Fertman, All Rights Reserved

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