Chinese listen character
Listening generally refers to the blare of a car horn, jangling keys, a voice or any other source sending a wave of air into the ear canal which vibrates the ear drum and cochlea. My book on contact improvisation devoted several pages to listening. It’s common parlance in contact improvisation to listen as a way to forward the dance as partners ride the contours of each other’s body. In the context of the dance, however, the meaning of listening expands beyond ear function. Listening refers to attentiveness to any sort of bodily event: the weight of the partner’s body; a muscle contracting; a shift in balance; the stir of memory and emotion. Any sensation emanating from yourself and your partner is fair game. This material becomes part of the dance and paves avenues for connection. Attentiveness to such events deepens presence and contributes to the way partners move.

I was delighted to learn that the Chinese character for ‘listen” similarly reflects this idea. Listening, in Chinese, includes more than the ear. The character for listen is comprised of the characters for ears but also the eyes, undivided attention, and the heart.

Pretty much sums up a fullness of being.

To listen with undivided attention implies focus. Its means distinguishing noise from sound, a clang from a thump. It means recognizing a cricket’s percussive chirp from its neighbor’s whir as they rub legs. It means hearing the words said along with the ones that never make their way past the tongue. With sight, we see bold colors and shadows, what lies directly before us and what hides nearby. With seeing and hearing, we can witness how emotion and history taint perception, our attention caught between sensing what is present and what pokes its head up from our past.

To listen with the heart, we feel the subtle or not so subtle pulsations of the sensitive coronary tissue, note when the heart opens, shutters, when it warms or cools, how it prompts us to cross the room or stay put, to choose one life path over another. There is no separate word for mind in Chinese. Thought resides in the heart.

How does this definition of listening influence how you write? Listen to the reverberations of sounded syllables. Watch images rise like smoke and dissolve. Watch for a flutter of thought and a rumble in the heart. Listen to what awakes.

What parts do you habitually reject, cast off, and let fall into the pit of your inattention? Which parts do you embrace?

With full attention and flush heart, listening enlists an enlightenment.

Listening is a dance of synesthesia, a sense beyond sense.


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