Tuesday, January 31, 2006

[talk] The Art of Listening (to Music, Language, Mind)

I will conduct a 3-day workshop in Ocean Lotus Farm during May 5-7, 2006. This is the introduction to the workshop. If you are interested in participating, please contact Ocean Lotus Farm for further details.

The Art of Listening

Ocean Lotus Farm Workshop

Tsan-Kuang Lee

May 5-7, 2006


Music, language, and thoughts come so easily in our daily life that most of us take them for granted and stop interacting with them meaningfully. We hear music without listening to it; we let our spouses talk to us without knowing what they are really saying; we hear our own inner voices but constantly ignore them.

In this workshop, we learn the art of listening. We learn how to listen to and enjoy music; we learn how to listen to and comprehend language; we learn how to listen to and become union with our thoughts.


Few people would say they don't love music. Music empowers an army,preludes the birthday cake serving, announces a friend's call,farewells the use of your computer, and accompanies our showering. It's so close to our daily life, but why are there moments when we wonder,how come some people are so crazy about symphonies in the concert hall,jazz solos in the bar, or loud raps on the street? Why, while an opera and a movie may both take two hours, most people find the lengths of the two psychologically so different?

Of course, it's a matter of preference and taste. Some love operas; some love movies. In fact, most of us can manage to be with music for a while in the concert hall, in the bar, or on the street. We can also learn when to applaud, when to scream, or when to shake and nod our heads. However, how the music itself really interacts with us internally, is probably irrelevant to the social codes that make us good audience.

How do we really enjoy music?

Again,the question is, how "we" "really" "enjoy" "music". First, it's"enjoyable", not boring, nor patience-challenging; neither does it make us feel arrogant or ignorant. Second, the enjoyment is "really"experienced, not imagined or pretended. Third, the satisfaction comes from the "music", not from the well-decorated concert hall, the dressed-up audience, the gossips about a famous conductor, or "the attractive girl/boy who saw me go to Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra". Most importantly, "we" participate in the whole process.

In this workshop, we will (re-)learn to listen to music, and learn to appreciate different types of musical expressions.


Thanks to the best-sellers, everybody today knows that listening plays an essential role in effective communication. However,being proficient in Martian and Venusian does not seem to guarantee better understanding. While we try very hard to listen, we still hear something very different from what's intended or even what's said. How do we fill the gap between theory and practice?
In this workshop,we will re-evaluate our listening ability and investigate the factorsthat hinder it. Then we learn to establish new listening habits tobreak from the bad cycles of poor communication that we were so used to.


The techniques of taming one's mind have been around for several thousands of years, and have been used by many different traditions, from religions(Buddhist, Catholic , Christian, Taoist, to name a few), to modern training (music performance, business leadership, athletics, military,etc.), and healing (stress reduction, meditational healing, etc.).However, most of us still have little control over our own minds.Running thoughts take over easily and many of us either ignore its effects or totally give up on disciplining our minds.

Why do we need to discipline our minds? Aren't discursive minds more creative? Don't we relax more when we just let our minds go free? Aren't minds more natural without control?

It's no surprise that many of us have such questions. On the other hand, we also wish we had the power to stop thinking in a sleepless night;musicians/speakers/athletes/examinees hope to concentrate on the performance instead of worrying about what would happen to them if they don't do well; in classrooms we hope to focus so we can learn better.

A trained mind does not only benefit us in those achievement-oriented goals. Obviously, if we are worrying about our tax return when we are in the Grand Canyon, we certainly are missing something; if we keep checking the time for the parking meters outside of the concert hall,we certainly won't be able to enjoy the music; if we are nervous about an exam on the table, we certainly won't be able to taste the breakfast fully.

A chaotic mind may actually harm us. We bite ourselves because our minds are not with us when eating; we fall because our minds aren't walking with us; we have car accidents because our minds aren't alert enough.

It actually goes deeper if we take it seriously: we say harmful words to others because our negative thoughts rule us; we ignore important signals/signs of dangers because our minds aren't clear; we fail to hear our own voices among other noises in our minds and regret not listening to ourselves.
Mindful technique swill be instructed and used throughout the workshop. We learn to pay full attention to music, language, and thoughts. Then we hope to apply the same techniques to other things and improve the quality of our daily life.

Workshop Rules

In this workshop of the Art of Listening, we want to emphasize the practice of listening instead of talking and expressing. Therefore, we require the participants to observe the following rules during the whole time of the workshop(including non-class time), for the sake of ourselves and others:

  • No talking except for in-class discussion.
  • No phone calls. (All emergency incoming calls should be taken and redirected by Ocean Lotus Farm administration.)
  • No emailing.
  • No reading, unless asked to.
  • No listening to personal music/speech.

These rules really help protect our minds from going away. According to our experiences, these simple rules turn out to be very powerful and enable one to go into a deeper level of observation and concentration.

Powerful transformation comes from a determined mind willing to change bad habitual patterns. Let's make it our Lesson One: when we come to the workshop, we bring our full mind here. We deal with other things before or after, but not during, the workshop.

About the Speaker

This workshop will be led by composer/linguist/meditator Tsan-Kuang Lee, who will share his insights on how to listen to music/language/mind deeply.

Trained to be a scientist in high school, turning to literature in college, but ending up studying linguistics and computer science in graduate school; with several established musicians' help, Tsan-Kuang is now working as a composer/arranger/performer, as well as a software developer. In recent years, he has been learning to re-exam himself through Zen practices; he has found Zen practices sharpen one's sensibility, deepen one's understanding, break one's prejudice, and free one's concepts,while at the same time, cultivate one's compassion and bring one harmony.

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