A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).



Your compassionate human desire to take good care of others is critical to the well-being of your family, friends, co-workers and community – and taking good care of yourself is the foundation for your care of everyone else.  However, it is sadly true that we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves. It’s as if we need a new Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. We would never say or do to someone else some of the things we say and do to ourselves.



You and I have two primary modes of mental activity: the doing mode and the being mode. Although we are called human beings, we spend the majority of our time in the doing mode rather than the being mode.  Your “doing” mode is highly prized in our culture for schooling, work and career. It demonstrates your mastery and command of detail, data, thinking, intellect and your goal-oriented ability to get things done. We depend heavily on the doing mode to take care of all our daily affairs at home and work,….


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You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time. – M. Scott Peck, M.D., psychiatrist (1936-2005), author of The Road Less Traveled

Hearing and listening are often confused. Hearing is one of the five major sense perceptions, along with seeing, tasting, smelling and touching. We use the sense of hearing when we are in conversation with another person and we may refer to that elemental sense of hearing as listening. But listening also has a much deeper meaning. In the corporate world and the medical and psychological sciences, the quality of active listening or deep listening is recognized as a critical element in interpersonal communication at work, at home and in the clinical encounter.

Relationship-centered care involves a therapeutic alliance that is so important to healing and success in clinical encounters. In his poem When Someone Deeply Listens to You, poetry therapist John Fox describes deep listening “as if gold has been discovered.” There is a quality of safety, benevolence and kindness in active/deep listening that transcends barriers of culture, religion, politics, race, social sta-tus, age, gender, language and the distinction between in-groups and out-groups.

Are Sounds Really a Barrier to Contemplation?

Another common misunderstanding about hearing is that sounds are a barrier to meditation, prayer, mindfulness or other contemplative

practices. While it may be pleasant to engage in such practices in a completely quiet and peaceful environment, it isn’t always possible and it certainly isn’t necessary.

While it is delightful to have the luxury of quiet for such practices, it is sometimes simply not possible to control external sounds. We will sometimes (perhaps often) find we are practicing meditation, prayer, mindfulness or other contemplative practices in a setting that involves sounds – maybe a lot of sounds. Anyone living in a busy urban environment knows this very well. This has actually been described as an asset to practice. Contemplative traditions suggest external sounds can actually be an asset to one’s internal practice, calling it good fortune to practice under adverse circumstances. The analogy is that adversity builds character or we sharpen the blade with the grit of the stone.

Paying Attention to Sound

Mindfulness practice acknowledges sounds as universal companions to meditation. We can disempower sounds as a barrier to meditation by formally using them as a focal point of our mindfulness practice. Rather than reacting to

sounds (whether bodily sounds or indoor or outdoor sounds) as obstacles to our mindfulness practice, we actually place our attention on them in a friendly, non-judgmental, non-adversarial way. We might use a fresh, innocent beginner’s mind and name/label all sounds by thinking “sound” rather than distinguishing between pleasant and unpleasant sounds (or noise). In this sense, our experience is the same whether we hear traffic noise, thunder, dogs barking, people coughing and cell phones ringing. We just let them be – and we stop taking them personally.

Letting Go of Sound

More often, the focus of our mindfulness practice may be on something other than sound, such as the physical sensations of breathing or the whole body. In this practice, we may consider sounds to be an obstacle to successful practice or a good meditation. The instruction is to simply notice the normal wandering “monkey mind” has veered off from our breath or body onto sounds and reactive thoughts such as, “If only it was quiet – then I could meditate.”

This is a very important moment in our practice. Rather than this habitual, self-critical reactivity, we simply notice where our attention went and gently escort it back to the physical sensations of breath or the body. We let go of the identification of sound as either pleasant or unpleasant. We let go of even naming it as sound. We return our attention to the breath or body, over and over, even if this returning makes up the majority of our practice.

After all, mindfulness involves practicing paying attention – using the breath and the body to train the mind to pay attention. Eventually, this skill can be applied to every moment of our lives – under all circumstances – alone and with others.

Listening With the Ears of  the Heart

You know how it feels to be interrupted frequently by someone you are speaking to. You may even interrupt others yourself. This is sometimes unhelpful and can even be unkind. We really can’t fully understand what another person is saying if we are thinking about our response while they are speaking and cutting them off mid-sentence. Mindful speaking and mindful listening are the two-way components of mindful communication for group discussion or one-on-one conversation. The instruction is to limit your speech to that which is true, necessary and kind – and allow silence. You can become a better listener and communicate more mindfully by first declaring this as an intention to which you are committed. Offer other people your complete, undivided attention. Really listen. Don’t plan your reply. Ask clarifying questions if you are not sure what they really want you to hear. To truly refine your ability to listen with the voice of the heart, repeat back to them what you think they said or meant. Do so as clarification rather than interpretation.

Hearing and listening can be pathways to living a mindful life. Mindful hearing and listening can sometimes even feel like gold has been discovered.

Sources and Resources


Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations

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