In 1979 I was in the Army, serving on the DMZ (DeMilitarized Zone) in Korea. Our mission was to patrol the American Sector and insure no North Koreans infiltrated into South Korea. We would do patrols at night and set up LP/OPs (Listening Post / Observation Post) close to the North Korean border. In order to do our job effectively, we needed to listen and observe in a way that would help us locate infiltrators. We listened to sounds and looked for movement. Listening and looking helped our observation of the situation and the reporting of accurate information.

There’s a difference between listening and hearing, looking and seeing. When we listen we attend closely for the purpose of hearing. When we hear we simply use our sense of hearing to perceive sounds. Listening is active; hearing is passive. “Attending closely”—listening—we use our attention to engage with the situation. “Perceiving sounds”—hearing—we’re passively allowing sounds to impact us. We may be aware when we hear a sound, but listening to that sound requires focusing our attention actively during the hearing process.

It’s the same for looking versus seeing. When we look we turn our eyes in some direction in order to see. When we see we simply use our sense of sight to perceive objects. Looking is active; we “turn our eyes in a direction,” engage the situation, and pay attention to it. Seeing is passive; visual images are simply being perceived with the eyes. We may be aware when we see an object, but looking at that object requires focusing our attention actively during the seeing process. 

By listening we engage our attention in the whole environment. When we hear a sound, we move our head and body in the direction of the sound, and focus our attention on that particular sound to investigate it.

Similarly, by looking we engage our attention in the whole environment. When we see an object move in the periphery of our field of view, we move our head and body in the direction of the movement, and focus our attention on that particular object to investigate it. 

The final step is to become the observer of what we’re listening to and looking at. We do this by observing the mind’s tendency to formulate conclusions too quickly. The mind wants certainty and will create conclusions before listening and looking are allowed to occur. The mind is motivated toward quick resolution of a situation so it can achieve comfort. We need to allow time to take in information, process it, before formulating conclusions. We do this by delaying our conclusions. 

When we occupied an LP/OP in Korea, we needed to listen for threats. We heard nature and human sounds. Our tendency was to categorize nature sounds as non-threatening and human sounds as threatening. Labeling nature sounds (birds, wind) as non-threatening meant we didn’t pay attention to them anymore. Listening to these sounds could reveal a threat. The mind sought comfort in the non-threatening label so listening and observation were diminished. 

There was a tendency to categorize movement that we saw to the South as friendly and movement to the North as the enemy. If we saw movement to the South, where another American patrol was supposed to be, then we needed to look to determine the threat, instead of labeling it friendly. Was it an animal, the American patrol, or the enemy? The mind sought comfort in the South/North label so looking and observation were diminished.

Our job was to delay making conclusions. We needed to observe and give that information to Military Intelligence. They collected information from all patrols, processed it, and then formulated a more accurate conclusion about the threats. 

By listening and looking we engaged our attention in the observation process. We engaged with the situation. We also observed our minds’ tendency to make conclusions about where or what the threat was. We kept our attention engaged by listening to everything we heard and looking at everything we saw, staying in the stress of not knowing instead of hiding in comfortable labels and conclusions. 

Practice Tip: Delay

When you climb you’ll experience stress. The mind will want to resolve that stress by seeking comfort. Take for example being physically tired, being pumped. The mind will want to escape the stress of being pumped and say “take” to hang on the rope. 

Don’t “take.” Rather, delay and look for options. Delaying gives you time; looking engages your attention in the situation. Look to the left, right and above. Stay in the stress and observe what options present themselves.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Robert Meck

    This is an amazing post- simple, insightful, and actionable. Thank you for this gift!

    1. Arno

      Welcome Robert. Important to ground this material in practical ways. I’ll continue to focus on that. a

  2. RJ Fleming

    Good article – thanks. This wider awareness approach is what I have been teaching and basing my guiding upon for decades now, as you have. We take a Shinrin Yoku approach to everything – ‘nature bathing’ in Japanese, and sharing the experiences of Nature with reverence and an open heart and mind. But mostly, it is our Spirit that needs nurturing and growth, and listening while hearing, truly observing when seeing, breathing in our relationship with our world is certainly the key. Thanks again, Arno…. and I still miss climbing together, discovering T-Wall, etc. as we did so many years ago. I still tell people occasionally about my partner, who said ‘No time like the present’ as he left me in my hanging belay and started around a blind, brittle sandstone overhang in Tennessee. Peace. My Friend. RJ Fleming, Chamonix & Kathmandu

    1. Arno

      Hi Roger, Thanks for the note. Yes, been a long while. I’ve heard that things in life come full circle. We climbed together years ago… So, I’m listening and looking for the timing of that circle completing its cycle, to climb together again. a

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