Wisdom Within Stillness: Understanding Dharma Through Deep Listening

What was the first thing you heard this morning, the very first sound? Perhaps it was the sound that woke you up?

After opening our eyes, we have the choice to observe our environment, to be present with our thoughts, body and breath or, we roll over, look at our phone and move about our day.

The world, our world, is undeniably a stimulating place. We are inundated with wonderful sights, sounds, smells and feelings every second, more than anyone might even think to consciously process. By cultivating a deep listening practice we allow ourselves the opportunity to connect with our true being.

Do you know just how many thoughts we have per second?

There have been a multitude of studies on this very subject. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, our nervous system acts as a channel for the transmission of information, whereas our brain is an information processor. We are able to process approximately 300 read words per minute. The human body sends 11 billion bits of information to the brain for processing per second and yet, the conscious mind (our thinking mind) only has the ability to process 50 bits per second.

The question is, can we listen not only with our thinking mind, but our sensory, feeling one too? How much more could we become aware of in life?

Our yoga practice, specifically asana, pranayama, meditation and contemplation, is one of the best tools to heighten awareness of both our internal and external environments. We can create a relatively controlled environment in which to practise. We purposefully carve out space within our busy schedule. We might lay down our mats in a quiet room or attend a class in a studio. We may sit on a cushion for meditation, or pull out a journal to reflect on our thoughts and behaviour. We formally practise. This style of practising is incredibly effective for self observation to help discern how and when we react in life.

But what about life away from our yoga mats? How can we begin to answer some of the bigger life questions, such as understanding dharma (see definition below), in a holistic way, stemming from a deeply embodied understanding of our life?

First we must understand the word itself…

Dharma, the Sanskrit word describing a core teaching found in many Indian religions is defined as ‘a cosmic law underlying right behaviour and social order’. It is often referred to as ‘righteousness’ and it encompasses a unique, right way of living for each individual.

You may have noticed popular culture offering us the question: ‘Have you found your true purpose in life?’

A common interpretation of dharma presumes that there is something that someone must achieve or do to reach a state of fulfillment. The concern with this definition is that it seems to misinterpret the intention of the teaching. Dharma, even within its definition, doesn’t request that you search for an action or status in life. Instead, the teachings ask you to reflect on who you are meant to be. Simply, it is exploring a way of being in the world.

So, what could be the most effective way to understand how you are meant to ‘be’ in the world? First, completely understand yourself.


It requires deep listening, mindfulness and presence not just on a yoga mat, but everywhere.

Can you apply potentially life changing awareness skills in the most mundane parts of your life? The parts where you would never think to listen and feel, the places where you are often distracted by the busyness of life itself?

How might deep listening in all of your environments reveal your unique dharma?

Dharma and deep listening go hand in hand. You cannot connect with a universal law without first connecting deeply with yourself. They are inextricably linked. Ultimately, we are being invited to become more aware of nature and to recall the fact that we are a part of it. Technology has made it easy to disconnect from the natural world and its phenomena, whereas we are, in fact, always existing amongst it. Therefore, it seems the best way to understand our dharma is to remember who we are and how we are being within our natural environment.

Like any, this journey requests dedication and time, and yet the practice in itself is accessible, simple and hopefully enjoyable.

How do you know it’s working?

The hope is, you may begin to feel calmer, experience less anxiety and depression. Life might feel less rushed and less overwhelming. You might get a sense that the natural environment around you is communicating with you. You may feel less alone. The world becomes lighter, happier. The small moments of human connection light you up. Life slows down because you allow yourself to slow down. You trust yourself and your decisions. You know who you are. You trust your instincts.

Senior man and woman concentrating and closing eyes doing an outdoor yoga

How to begin practising deep listening?

  • Begin practising in a quiet environment
  • Sitting in a comfortable position, close your eyes and listen to any sounds that arise. Your mind may try to name the sounds, analyse them and find meaning within them, instead just listen.
  • Notice how far off in the distance you can experience sounds?
  • Do you feel any of the sounds in your body? What do you feel? Where do you feel it?
  • What does your mind try to say about the sound? Do you like or dislike the sound? If you begin to attribute meaning to the sounds, then just come back to simply listening.
  • Does the experience of certain sounds produce an emotion? Observe without analysis or story.
  • When practising mindfulness and meditation techniques, use listening to sound as an entry tool.
  • Pay attention to sounds during normal daily activities, in a less controlled environment.
  • If at any stage you feel overwhelmed, pause the exercise and try again at a different time.
  • Practice daily or whenever possible

During these initial practices be sure to only listen. This isn’t an intellectual process, it’s an experience.

As expansive listening becomes habitual, offer yourself more challenging and perhaps over-stimulating environments where it may seem difficult to listen and feel.

When you continuously tune into the world around you, hear and feel all of it, you may eventually develop a level of discernment to observe even your own thoughts from a different perspective. You might begin to observe your behaviours and your relationships with other people, places and even your past. You will begin to trust your instincts, your intuition.

You may even develop a deeper level of self respect. It becomes impossible to ignore what’s right in front of you. You might hear your own needs more clearly, hear the subtle functions of your body, hear what is required in your natural environment and perhaps hear what changes are necessary.

This practice requires time and it requires discipline, (all of the best things do). Release expectations, allow yourself to be patient. Each new sound/feeling you become aware of is a win. Treat the process lightly. Acknowledge yourself often. Wisdom lies within simplicity. This is one way you may begin to know yourself and therefore, identify your dharma.

When we listen deeply, we can begin to hear the universal laws of truth, the universal protocol that underlies life itself.

(It is important to document that this specific listening practice originated from ancient indigenous Hawaiian teachings, from the island of Molokai. They have been passed down with accuracy for more than 51 generations with an intention to help humanity live a balanced, harmonious and truthful life).

This article was written by our guest writer and yoga teacher Lisa Clark.

A note from the editor:

Dharma, after Self-acceptance and Awareness, is the main aspect of raja yoga which is about awakening the potential of the personality, living life according to our Karma and in harmony with our role in life. A big thank you to Lisa Clark, your article shows how the naturalness of life can manifest from within without superimposed concepts or ideas. The result, a life without conflict with our true nature. The Indian Sanatan culture has four types of fulfilment in life, the Purusharthas, Artha material need, Kama emotional need, Dharma ethical law and Moksha spiritual aim.

Further reading:

Yoga Darshan, Vision of the Yoga Upanishads – Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, Yoga Publications Trust, Mungar, Bihar, India

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