Householder Life

The Art and Craft of Hearing

“Dear God, please help my husband/wife see things my way.”

This should not be our prayer. Even with spiritual progress as a common goal, even with inner strength and compatibility, a marriage will still be painfully difficult if the couple cannot empathetically hear from each other. If we only listen enough to protect our own territory, we lose common ground. If we only hear what we want to hear, we will remain inflexible and unaware of the other’s needs. But, when we don’t impose our self on the other, or allow the other to impose him or her self on us, hearing is an opportunity for lifetime learning, responding to healthy needs, and reconciling divergent opinions. A rewarding marriage creates an atmosphere that encourages each person to talk honestly. Emotions need not be repressed; they can be expressed, but expressed considerately, so the other can hear.

True hearing, with total concentration on the other, is to value the other and extend oneself for mutual growth. An essential part of this process is to temporarily set aside our prejudices, frames of reference, and desires as to experience our spouse’s world from the inside by stepping into his or her shoes. Sensing this acceptance, the speaker feels inclined to open up more to the listener and the listener appreciates the speaker increasingly. Unfortunately, most couples do not truly hear each other.

The art of knowing what to say when and the craft of give and take is part of hearing, as illustrated in this pastime and purports from the Sixth Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam.

Mother Parvati could not appreciate Chitraketu’s position, and therefore she cursed him, but when she understood the instructions of Lord Shiva [her husband] she was ashamed and covered her face with the skirt of her sari, admitting that she was wrong in cursing Chitraketu. (SB 6.17.3536)

However, earlier in this intricate narrative, we learned that the difficulty was that Chitraketu, having become a great devotee of Lord Vishnu, Sankarsana, was somewhat proud at having achieved Lord Sankarsana’s favour and therefore thought that he could now criticise anyone, even Lord Shiva. This kind of pride in a devotee is never tolerated.

Mother Parvati was justified in punishing Chitraketu, for Chitraketu impudently criticised the supreme father, Mahadeva. Acting through the heart of Parvati, the Lord, who is situated in everyone’s heart, cursed Chitraketu in order to end all his material reactions. (SB 6.17.10, 15, 17)

Given this explanation, was there a need for Parvati to hide her face in shame? Yes. Instead of an argument to establish who was right and who was wrong, we find that Parvati, although her actions were justified,  carefully heard Lord Shiva’s opinion and acknowledged his greatness. She did not do so artificially. Between right and wrong are many shades of grey. The exchange is a beautiful interplay of maturity, humility, knowledge, and detachment, a tapestry of harmony despite differences.

The inability to hear and the inability to speak in such a way that we can be heard, creates, in the Bhagavatam’s words, “a husband and wife who constantly make material endeavours to eliminate their unhappiness and unlimitedly increase their pleasure but who inevitably achieve exactly the opposite result.” (SB 11.3.18)

Simply hearing each other can redefine your relationship.