A heavy weight hangs in my chest.
I feel suffocated under the weight of my own unfelt and unexpressed emotions.
How often have you felt this way?
How often have you woken up feeling like you don’t want to leave bed – instead, you just want to crawl into a dark hole and never come out?
How often have you carried dark, intense, dull, or draining feelings around not just for days, but for WEEKS? Perhaps even months or years.
If this is you, I get it.
I’ve been there, and I still go there.
In fact, I’m there today. But I have something to share with you that has helped me tremendously:
The power of deep listening.
Table of contents
What is Deep Listening?
Deep listening is the practice of turning toward your feelings and emotions.
Most of us have the tendency to run away from anything uncomfortable within us. It’s only natural.
But numbing, avoiding, and rejecting our pain only makes what we feel larger and ‘scarier’ than it truly is.
When we turn toward our pain with curiosity and gentleness, we often find an immediate sense of relief.
Deep listening isn’t just a new fad – it’s an ancient practice that can be found in many old cultures, such as the Australian Indigenous peoples (known as Dadirri).
Why Undigested Emotions Are Your Worst Enemy
You need to digest your emotions.
Yes, you heard me.
Emotions aren’t rubbish – they’re not meant to be stuffed away within the trashcan of your psyche. They’re made to be felt.
The word ‘emotion’ itself comes from the 16th century, tracing its roots back to the French word émouvoir which means ‘excite, stir up.’
More recently, emotion has been explained as e-motion, or energy in motion.
Letting this energy move throughout us is the most natural and organic process. But thanks to our cultural, religious, and often familial conditioning, we’re taught otherwise.
Depending on what cultural context we’re from, we’re taught that “being angry” is bad and dangerous.
Crying is looked down upon as “weak” or “melodramatic.”
Even expressing joy or intense excitement is seen as “being attention seeking” or “inappropriate.”
But as our favorite psychologist/sage Carl Jung writes,
What you resist, persists.
That stuffed away anger isn’t going anywhere. That buried grief doesn’t just disappear.
It remains undigested within your psyche, within your unconscious. Within your body.
It forms part of your shadow self and intensifies your soul loss.
How to Practice the Art of Deep Listening
I’m convinced that at the root of most anxiety and depression is undigested emotion.
People are either weighed down by this energy (as in depression) or are hyperstimulated by it (as in anxiety). Sometimes, we experience both unfortunate scenarios.
But what I have found over and over again – in the personal stories of others, in public talks, in juicy books, in other’s blog posts, in my own direct experience – is that you need to practice one thing:
And it’s an intensely spiritual practice.
It’s also at the root of inner work.
Here’s how you can bring this practice into your life:
1. Heart-gut centering
According to science, we have three brains: the head, heart, and gut.
We have a lot of experience using our head – but we tend to neglect the heart and gut.
Like disembodied heads, we float throughout our days barely aware of our inner landscape. Who can blame us? We’re conditioned to be that way.
But the simple practice of placing one hand over your heart, and the other over your stomach, can change everything.
So please, try this.
Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by unmetabolized emotions, go somewhere quiet. Place a hand over your heart and gut, and be still.
Tune into yourself.
This is the essence of deep listening.
When I do this practice, emotions often rush to the surface. Tears can sometimes well up. Resurrected anger can begin to burn volcanically.
In short: the energy buried inside becomes alive again.
This is a good thing.
By placing a gentle hand over your heart and gut, you’re awakening the intelligence and wisdom inherent in there. Your only job is to be quiet, open, and receptive.
And remember, if at any point this Heart-Gut Centering practice gets too intense, you can stop. Do something else. Drink a cup of water, eat, and ground yourself.
2. What can you hear right now, down to the minutest detail?
Asking the simple question “What can I hear right now, down to the minutest detail?” is a simple doorway into deep listening.
Try it for a moment.
Stop reading, close your eyes (or look away), and notice every sound emerging in this present space.
What can you pick up on?
Perhaps there’s a rush of cars in the distance. Maybe a bird is singing, a cricket is chirping, and a refrigerator is humming. You might even notice the sound of your own breathing.
This deep listening practice is actually a form of mindfulness meditation.
By deeply listening to every sound around you, you’re expanding your field of awareness. Instead of remaining contracted, you’ll feel expanded, refreshed, and renewed!
The beauty is that not only can you practice this in any moment, but you can also pair it with the previous technique. (Those two done together are pure magic!)
3. Stream of consciousness writing
A more active form of deep listening can be experienced through stream of consciousness writing.
Writing releases creative energy and helps to create mental clarity. If you’re anxious, depressed, or otherwise burdened by a lot in life, writing is your best friend.
If you’re lonely and have no one to turn to, write it all down.
In fact, writing (or journaling) helped me hold onto my sanity through periods of existential crisis and when I was going through the dark night of the soul. I still do it regularly to this very day!
To begin your stream of consciousness writing:
i – get a piece of paper. You can also use a note-taking app on your phone or laptop. But I recommend using a physical pen and paper – it makes the experience feel more tangible and real.
ii – Next, set a timer for ten minutes, then begin. Don’t stop writing until the timer goes off.
Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or punctuation.
Don’t edit, delete, or judge your writing.
Just spill it all out – even if it sounds like total trash or nonsense.
Remember, the point of this practice is to engage in an active form of deep listening. In other words, you’re tuning into and expressing the contents of your inner world.
iii – Once you’re finished, read over what you’ve written – this too is deep listening. You’re listening for the truth of how you feel.
Many people are shocked and surprised by this simple practice. It’s not uncommon to have sudden epiphanies or to feel miraculously unburdened from your unspoken pain.
But even if the practice isn’t immediately phenomenal, stick with it!
Just the act of tuning in and churning out already gets the stifled energy within you moving. And through repetition, this deep listening practice can alchemize some deep growth, self-awareness, and transformation.
I am large, I contain multitudes.– Walt Whitman
As humans, we are one part animal, one part divinity.
We’re not automatons. We can’t live our lives burying away the truth of what lives within us. Repression and avoidance only equal stagnation and illness.
As Whitman writes, we contain multitudes.
There is so much within us that wants to be seen and felt – and this is part of the human experience.
Each one of us is like a galaxy, with numerous shimmering planets, stars, and solar systems that are ever-expanding.
But to suppress how we feel – to be “too busy,” or even just to be innocently unaware of our inner reality – is like walking around carrying a dead galaxy within us.
And when there are no stars, no planets, nothing … what is left?
Blackness. A black hole. A void.
To practice deep listening is to reawaken the galaxy and constellation of our inner being.
Yes, sure, it might be uncomfortable at first.
But soon we feel more connected, more alive, and more ensouled.
All we need to do is to remember to turn toward rather than away from that which simply wants to be felt within us.
How do you practice deep listening? If this article has inspired any feelings or thoughts within you, I’d love to hear them below!
Thank you for sharing this. It totally resonates with me and I can completely relate to it! Especially your 1st sentence. Hardest part of the day now is waking up from sleep to a reality I don’t want to be in but feel powerless to change now. Just wish it was all over. But what can we do? Have to take it one day, one moment at a time. Your e-mails help a bit to guide me through this long, ongoing “dark night of the soul”. God Bless you.
I don’t know how but it just magically works!
Thanks so much for share this knowledge with us!
I have always been huge on watching the stars. Something my dad got me interested in when I was just a little girl. Last summer I began noticing some very different stars in our sky. At first they seem to be of one unit but as I watch they split into two, seem to dance, then form back into one. In the beginning I noticed just one of these odd stars then as I looked a bit more at the night sky there seem to be several of these strange stars in the sky. I have looked all over the internet and haven’t been able to find anything about these rather new and different stars in our sky. Have you or any others noticed these strange what I call “dancing stars” in the night sky?
Deep Listening? Hmmmm….. lately I’ve been trying to touch the old pain somewhere deep inside me. I downloaded the very first music album I bought and identified with as a pre-teen (Ozzy Ozbourne / Diary of a Madman) and I’ve been listening to songs as I meditate and concentrating on experiencing what the internal energies are doing inside of me as this music plays. I know that I’ve touched the edge of a really old ball of stagnant energy that’s been stuck for many years..
I just tried this heart-gut centering paired with the deep listening as I played another song from this album and really tried to connect with the inner me – the past me – who is still holding onto all those bottled up emotions from that time of my life and I’m feeling some things now. I sense positive changes to that old yucky energy as it is already loosening up just a little bit.
I’m also still working my way through your Shadow-Work Journal. Thank you for providing resources and ideas and support as I delve ever deeper. I appreciate all you are doing for the world around us.