The Art of Listening by Billy Doyle.
Only in the complete absence of yourself is there total presence.- Jean Klein
This article first appeared in Watkins Mind Body Spirit, Issue 44.
The book focuses on Jean Klein’s teaching regarding yoga as I experienced it working with him for about a decade and a half from 1982. His teaching has its origin in the early Kashmir literature from such sources as the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra of perhaps the 7th century CE. Jean Klein, who was a master of Advaita Vedanta and Yoga, spent several years in India in the 1950’s. He brought this approach back to the West and subsequently developed and refined it.
It is quite distinctive from most other approaches to yoga. From the beginning Jean asks us to be open to the teaching that our real nature is consciousness, and not a particular body-mind. There is nothing to become, to improve, for in our real nature we are perfect. The problem is that we identify with what we are not – an object in perception. We are consciousness, the timeless, but we identify with an expression of consciousness.
This false identification is on the level of the mind, a belief system that has ramifications throughout the psychosomatic complex. When we don’t question this initial assumption, then all our subsequent practice only reinforces our original mistake. Believing ourselves to be a someone, a speck in the universe, inevitably invites suffering and fear. Our body becomes a defence mechanism to maintain our ego; our senses tend to grasp instead of welcoming the world.
This contraction imprisons us within ourselves, within a pattern. A conditioned body-mind is not open to the solicitations from our real nature, to truth. To free ourselves from what we are not, Jean emphasised the importance of listening. Listening here refers to our total receptivity, an unconditioned, choiceless listening, innocent of purpose or intent. However, we rarely listen in this impersonal way; we tend to judge, interpret, and analyse. But the body has an organic memory of its health, and when we are no longer accomplices to creating tensions it returns to its natural state.
In listening to the body, welcoming it as sensation, it goes through various layers of elimination until we come to the real body (the energy or subtle body). This energy body, which permeates and surrounds the physical body, is usually paralysed by contraction on the neuromuscular level. When it comes fully alive it frees us from the feeling of weight and density, and we experience a sense of transparency and non-localisation. It gives us a fore-feeling of our real nature.
Most approaches to yoga only work on the musculoskeletal level, but this only reinforces the existing patterns. In this approach, we first allow the energy body to come alive and with the help of visualisation we feel our expansion in space. In all our subsequent practice of asanas (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing practices) and meditation we maintain this feeling of space, our globality. The practice can be seen as a purification of the body-mind, to open the subtle energies of the body, to make us more available to our real nature. But the real purification is the understanding that we are not an entity, but awareness itself, beyond what the mind can grasp.
Listening begins with listening to something – in this case the body – but there comes a point when we no longer emphasise what we listen to, and discover ourselves in listening itself, where no one is listening and nothing is listened to.
The book, through the various chapters, explores advaita (non-dualism), the art of listening, relaxation techniques, the opening of the senses, correct sitting, breath awareness, the body as sensation, movement, yoga postures and meditation. Jean explained meditation as a laboratory wherein we explore who is the meditator. When we discover there is no such entity, we give up meditation, for we are it; it is the background to all functioning, our timeless presence. He emphasised the importance of those empty moments in daily life when we are free of thought, the space between breaths, the giving up when we go to bed at night and the moment before the body wakes up in the morning. These can be windows to our objectless presence.
Meet the author: Billy Doyle is a long term student of Jean Klein. He lives in London and teaches yoga in the Kashmir Tradition. His previous book, The Mirage of Separation is a collection of poems on non-dualism.