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Breathe, Pause, and Listen

By DukhNiwaran Kaur

With all of the challenges we are facing in these times, one theme emerges, “pause and listen.” In times of change, stress and isolation, this theme is even more important and oftentimes difficult to embrace.

In uncertainty, it is our human inclination to anchor ourselves in certainty. This can be expressed as attempting to control. Controlling is the antithesis to “pause and listen.” In deep listening, we are called to let go, activate our parasympathetic nervous system and relax. This allows all of the nuances of what is being said to emerge.

This kind of listening heals us. It gives us the gift of relaxation if we can surrender and lean into it. Pause and listen. This listening allows us to feel the emotions that come in connection with another person. We feel the impact of what they are saying. We feel our own emotions in relation to it. We feel empathic connection to another person. And, if we can really sink into listening, we can feel the Divine in that interaction.

Right now our communities are doing listening tours and opening up spaces to hear each other, to be heard and seen and witnessed. We are opening our hearts to one another in new expanded ways. But what happens when stress, fear, anger, heartbreak or controlling come forward in our listening? What do we do when we find ourselves reacting rather than really listening?

First, forgive ourselves. It is our nature to react. As yogis, we know that this reaction is the functioning of the multi-faceted mind. And we know that our practices give us the tools to slow down our reactions, to breathe, feel them and be with them deeply while we continue to listen. This is authentic communication.

It is critical that we—especially we who have a tendency to talk and teach and contribute—learn to be with our reactions deeply and continue to listen without speaking. Here are some easy steps:

  1. Pause – during this pause, breathe, deeply,
  2. Listen to what your thoughts are saying,
  3. Identify the emotional content of these thoughts. Name these emotions.
  4. Sit with the emotions that arise for you. Write them down, breathe with them, allow them space with compassion.
  5. Determine if these thoughts are to be spoken at this time.
    a. Can I take care of my emotions so that I am responsible for them and I am not projecting them onto others?
    b. Tune into the moment in the conversation and determine:
       1. Is it true?
       2. Is it kind?
       3. Does it serve?

The most important of this is to examine, “does it serve.” Those of us who love to teach often think that our contribution serves and is of vital importance. In this moment, what is of vital importance is to listen to the voices who speak less. We can serve by creating the space for these voices to be heard. Our space holding is a strong contribution and these voices are valuable.

In this time, our subtle presence is more important and serves much more than our voices. We are so fortunate to hear the diversity of voices right now. Revel in it like a delicious multi-course meal. Even when these voices challenge you. Breathe, pause and listen.

DukhNiwaran Kaur Khalsa is a Professional Teacher Trainer, Sikh Minister and LGBTQ+ advocate. She lives in Chicago with her wife of 30 years and their 2 cats.