We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. – Epictetus

This quote was on my calendar a couple of days ago. On the way to work it struck me to see so many people wearing headphones in public. So am I occasionally, for that matter. And I started wondering what this did to our ability to listen. To ourselves. Other people. The environment.

Is it that we are so bothered by the sounds and noises from the environment that we need to tune out?

Or is it the current zeitgeist that you need to make use of every second of your day that you should always feed yourself more input? Is it a way of keeping ourselves busy?

Obviously, Epictetus was referring to human interaction. And how much time we should spend talking and listening.
I believe that the way technology has influenced our ability to tune in or out has affected our way of being with other people. And our ability to use our perception freely and be fully present.

What and how we listen has changed

We take in information all the time. Through our skin, eyes, nose and ears. Most of it we take in through the eyes. The ears are a more pasive sense. We can’t close our ears and keep the sounds outside.

If you live in a city like me, there’s hardly a moment when I’m not exposed to sound of some kind. Moments of silence are rare. And when it’s silent there might still be my self-talk keeping me busy and distracting me.


We definitely have more choice in what we listen to

Headphones have given us the chance to block out what we hear from our direct surroundings. But is it doing us more good?

Does the active act of listening to something by choice reduce our ability to hear and pick up subtle messages that are around us?

Is this constant feeding of our ears with new information with news, music, podcasts, meditations really making us more content and joyful humans?

I don’t have answers. But I do have more questions:

Are we listening more to sounds and people through digital channels than through direct contact?

How does this affect your sense of connection and our ability to navigate through everyday life as awake humans?

How much of your listening is direct, i.e. taking things in through the environment we’re surrounded by?

How much of your listening is actually listening to people?

Has leaving the house with a headphones on become your default?

What are you avoiding by putting on your headphones?


What happens to me when I tune out?

I sometimes listen to music on the way to work. I like habit stacking (in the context of movement) so I use the time standing or sitting on the metro to make micro movement with a specific body part. I use it as embodied practice time.

Funnily enough, I do feel connected to the space around. Am I just imagining this? Or is it really possible to be connected while disconnected aurally? Does the mere intent of being present let me be fully present even when I’m choosing not to listen to the noises of public transport (and the metro in Vienna can be quite noise) and the people around me?

I also realized that sometimes I put in my earbuds on the train (out of habit?) and never turn on music or a podcast. Is that my way of distancing myself from my fellow passengers and a sign of don’t talk to me or I don’t care what you’re up to?

Does tuning out to the sounds from around allow me to tune in to myself? Are those contradictory states or can I have both?

This week, I’ll pay attention and experiment with this some more…

What do you think? And how are you choosing to listen when you move in public space?


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