Monday Aphorism: Hearing

Sooner or later I have to tell the conductors of the orchestras in which I play to tell me very loudly, and very firmly what they want me to hear; what they want me to do. I will do what they ask, usually without embarrassment.

I am not hard of hearing, but difficult to penetrate. “Why”? I ask my self. Egocentric? Unwilling, uncaring? Perhaps my own meanderings fill every nook and cranny of my interpretive self, and I leave no openings for more.

Perhaps I hear inner voices loudly claiming, clamoring, competing, unwilling to move over, to make room. Perhaps I am blocking, and merely want to keep noise’s excess managed.

“Tell me loudly and I will hear!”

  • Gus

    Harvey, thank you for forcing me to think about hearing. Not forcing in a despotic, controlling sort of way, but you know what I mean.

    I would draw a distinction between hearing and listening. Hearing, as I see it, is the act of opening one’s ears, of being receptive to one’s s(urr)ound(ing)s, in a more or less pre-interpretive capacity. Listening, on the other hand, contains the necessary quality of interpreting those sounds. It’s a difference between passive and active listening I suppose, but the issue is more than a matter of semantics.

    The main distinction between listening and hearing is the relationship each has with the process of communication. Hearing is the act of absorbing as much sound as is possible and appropriate, while trying to retain what enters the ears. Hearing, as you point out, is partially impeded by various barriers—the congestion of inner dialogues, ego, mistrust, distractions. Listening is the act of tearing down those barriers and teasing out the meaning behind them (which is less an act of discovery and more of creation). In order for a person to listen to another speak she needs to have an open ear—she needs to hear the speaker—but she also needs to impose her own meaning on the words instantaneously as she hears them, as well as on the tone, body language, context, etc.. Listening requires one to get out of one’s head, so to speak, in order to momentarily enter the interpretive realm of communication. In Buddhist terms, listening involves a process of stripping oneself of one’s ego, whereas hearing requires no such process. In this sense, one can hear without listening (this much is obvious), but one can also listen without hearing. Meditation is the process of closing one’s ears to the sounds of the outside world and engaging in a focused listening exercise with one’s own mind. Listening to a friend, for instance, trying to tell you something difficult to communicate sometimes demands that you suspend hearing what she’s saying in order to silently observe what she is not saying, what you interpret as the “meaning behind the words”.

    Hearing and listening are both acts, and to understand the difference between the two acts so as not to confuse them for the same is a step toward being a more sensitive participant in the world.

    Anyway, it’s necessary for the mind to limit “noise’s excess”, and that’s where the role of listening comes in. The art of listening is not an engagement in any and all sounds with which one comes into contact. The real art of listening is located in the subtle ability to intuit and interpret the essential beads of meaningful sound awash in a babbling sea of noise.

  • Gus

    Harvey, thank you for forcing me to think about hearing. Not forcing in a despotic, controlling sort of way, but you know what I mean.

    I would draw a distinction between hearing and listening. Hearing, as I see it, is the act of opening one’s ears, of being receptive to one’s s(urr)ound(ing)s, in a more or less pre-interpretive capacity. Listening, on the other hand, contains the necessary quality of interpreting those sounds. It’s a difference between passive and active listening I suppose, but the issue is more than a matter of semantics.

    The main distinction between listening and hearing is the relationship each has with the process of communication. Hearing is the act of absorbing as much sound as is possible and appropriate, while trying to retain what enters the ears. Hearing, as you point out, is partially impeded by various barriers—the congestion of inner dialogues, ego, mistrust, distractions. Listening is the act of tearing down those barriers and teasing out the meaning behind them (which is less an act of discovery and more of creation). In order for a person to listen to another speak she needs to have an open ear—she needs to hear the speaker—but she also needs to impose her own meaning on the words instantaneously as she hears them, as well as on the tone, body language, context, etc.. Listening requires one to get out of one’s head, so to speak, in order to momentarily enter the interpretive realm of communication. In Buddhist terms, listening involves a process of stripping oneself of one’s ego, whereas hearing requires no such process. In this sense, one can hear without listening (this much is obvious), but one can also listen without hearing. Meditation is the process of closing one’s ears to the sounds of the outside world and engaging in a focused listening exercise with one’s own mind. Listening to a friend, for instance, trying to tell you something difficult to communicate sometimes demands that you suspend hearing what she’s saying in order to silently observe what she is not saying, what you interpret as the “meaning behind the words”.

    Hearing and listening are both acts, and to understand the difference between the two acts so as not to confuse them for the same is a step toward being a more sensitive participant in the world.

    Anyway, it’s necessary for the mind to limit “noise’s excess”, and that’s where the role of listening comes in. The art of listening is not an engagement in any and all sounds with which one comes into contact. The real art of listening is located in the subtle ability to intuit and interpret the essential beads of meaningful sound awash in a babbling sea of noise.

  • Harvey Sarles

    Gus,
    Ironic, I think, because by now I need to interact with the world, hearing-aids tuned up. I agree that listening – you describe it so well – is what I wasn’t doing while playing the violin. I was internal, inside, open only to the music…I think; I told myself. A big life problem, hearing but not listening, gripped with some kinds of certitude that I remain open, but only if you shout. I hope I am a better listener these days, when I have to hear in order to hear.
    Harvey

  • Harvey Sarles

    Gus,
    Ironic, I think, because by now I need to interact with the world, hearing-aids tuned up. I agree that listening – you describe it so well – is what I wasn’t doing while playing the violin. I was internal, inside, open only to the music…I think; I told myself. A big life problem, hearing but not listening, gripped with some kinds of certitude that I remain open, but only if you shout. I hope I am a better listener these days, when I have to hear in order to hear.
    Harvey