Saturday, July 31

Mindful Monday: Teacup Listening

This post is the first of three on the topic of mindfulness and listening.

"Now the Lord came again and stood there, calling as before, 'Samuel! Samuel!' And Samuel said, 'Speak, your servant is listening.'"
(1 Samuel 3:10, NIV)

For those who don’t know the context for this scripture, today’s daily lectionary selection, here’s a link to a brief explanation, written by Mary Luti for the United Church of Christ’s “Feed Your Soul Daily Devotional.” After an even briefer synopsis here, I’m going to consider one way that mindfulness and listening work together by relating a Buddhist story I just read.

A twelve-year-old child, Samuel, heard someone calling him in the night. He believed that it was Eli, the priest under whom Samuel was training to be consecrated for service to God. Eli was going blind, and one night Samuel went to Eli three times, having heard whom he thought was Eli calling him for assistance. The priest realized that it was God who was calling Samuel and told him how to respond the next time he heard God’s call. At the fourth call, Samuel responded: “Speak, your servant is listening.” Likely, he felt wonder and curiosity as he stood there, open and attentive to whatever he was about to hear.

The Eightfold Path, based on the Four Noble Truths, the foundational principles of Buddhism, is the main guide for mindful openness to one’s self, relationships with others, the wider world, and God/Truth/Love/One/Spirit, if you are so inclined. Aspects of the Path include, for example, Right (aka Skillful or Wholesome) Intention, Right Action, Right Mindfulness, and Right Speech. There is no aspect called Right Listening, although I think that listening may be nearly synonymous with Right Mindfulness.

Lama Choyin Rangdrol, the only African-American teacher of Buddhism recognized by the First Conference of Tibetan Buddhist Centers in North and South America, notes on his website that Buddha statues and pictures all over the world show the Buddha with elongated ears, Buddha's Facesymbolizing the crucial importance of listening. Lama Rangdrol says, “Listening is the quintessential skill of transformative awareness" and then goes on to relate a story called “Teacup Listening” that I’d like to share here.

"Teacup listening" is an advisement on the proper way to listen. […] There are three examples of "how not to listen," in the advisement:

First, one should not listen like a teacup with a hole in the bottom that accepts tea while also spilling it through the bottom. This kind of teacup is incapable of retaining what it has been given. It is useless, although it appears to be open and receptive.

The second reference is to a teacup that is upside down on its saucer. This represents a person who has come to the situation already opposed to what might be said. Although they appear to be capable of listening, they are closed from the beginning and have no intention of being open. Nothing can be said to this person because their mind is positioned against change.

The third advisement represents the teacup with a bit of poison in it. The poison represents anger, greed, resentment, and so on. This person will combine everything you say with their personal discontent. They will hear you and yet interpret everything that is said through a negative filter. No matter what you say they will fault and blame you for disturbing their mind even though it is they who put the poison in their own teacup.

People who are new to this teaching usually make the mistake of thinking about people that they have seen do one or more of these obstructed ways of listening. But the teaching is not about others; it focuses on one's own listening habits. It is more accurate to consider what others would say about trying to deal with you when you are upset or angry.

Which example of Teacup Listening most applies to the quality of your listening? I must confess to a little of all three. Can we see how mindfulness of what is happening in the present moment necessarily involves skillful listening, both to oneself and the other? Right Listening, though not explicitly listed as an area of the Path, is implicit in all eight, I believe, and as such, it's essential to the development of mindfulness.

Bentley tea cup.jpg

What are you noticing about your listening today?


for Mindful Monday


© 2014, post, Donna Pierce
Photo, Bentley Tea Cup: © 2013, by Snap713 , CC BY-NC-ND, via
Photo, Buddha's Face: © 2011, by cactusbeetroot, CC BY-NC, via

#mindful #monday #findingGod