Art of No Mind Listening

Jun 19, 2020

When we say we listen, do we listen at all? Who do we listen to? Very few I know listen. What they ear goes in from one ear out through the other, occasionally touching the space between, rarely below.

As children, we are not listeners. We are curious explorers. Listening does not seem to add value to us. Adults force us to listen, mostly to what we do not wish to do. We are conditioned to look at listening as a forced unpleasant activity.

Why does listening become important as we grow up? Teachers demand that of us. They like us to listen and reproduce, rather than explore and demand an explanation.

Even the great Carl Rogers, who I normally swear by, talks about Active Listening as:

  1. Repeating
  2. Paraphrasing &
  3. Reflecting

Rogers also says that an Active Listener ought to be:

  1. Neutral
  2. Non-Judgmental &
  3. Engaged Throughout

I find some difficulty with the word active, followed by the consciousness that Rogers uses in his book on Active Listening. As a thought leader in psychology, he knows for sure that listening is more of an unconscious process.

I resonate far more with Otto Scharmer’s levels of listening:

  1. Judgmental listening from one’s ego center to prove we are right
  2. Curious listening moving out to learn what we do not know
  3. Empathetic listening placing ourselves in the other’s mind and heart
  4. Generative listening viewing the other as the other wants to be

In my lexicon, a coach must fulfill the last three levels of listening and never in the first. Scharmer’s definition of generative listening opens up a vista of such unbelievable unconditional positive regard potential for the coach. In this state, the coach sees the client’s emerging future, what the client wishes to be through verbal and non-verbal cues holistically.

To Scharmer’s four levels I would add a fifth, borrowing from Rogers and Eastern wisdom. This would be the No Mind listening of neutral, non- judgmental and yet engaged criteria Rogers put down. The picture is now is more complete.

The Hindu Upanishads and Buddhist Zen speak of the No Mind as the state of disengaged observation that is compassionate and engaged. The observer is still connected, but as a viewer, not the actor in the drama. The observer, listener, and viewer have the energy to stay client-centric, yet without ego-based inputs. The listener becomes present by being absent. The coach is mindless.

In coaching, the coach is not merely a listener. The coach is an observer. The auditory sense comes together with the visual and other senses to sense, view, listen, and observe the speaker, who is the client, holistically in cognition, emotion, body, and energy.

To reach this state the coach needs to be:

  1. Meditative, centered within and yet observant without
  2. Witnessing, disengaged and non-judgmental, and
  3. Partnering in unconditional empathetic congruent positive regard

The emerging science of Heart math, which aligns so beautifully with Eastern scriptural truths and with Quantum Science, says that our heart acts as a mini-brain, intimately connected through the polyvagal nerve to the brain. I spoke of this in another blog ‘Where does the Head meet the Heart?’

Be a mindless coach with centered on your heart, disengaged yet compassionate, present yet absent, and listening through your heart yet making sense in your brain. You then become a truly holistic coach.

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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