The Whole Being Listens
Here’s an interpretive rendering—via Christian mystic Thomas Merton—of a passage from the Chuang Tzu that describes a Taoist practice known as “fasting of the heart-mind.”
The basic idea is to notice the difference between three levels of hearing: (1) hearing with the ears; (3) hearing with the heart-mind (i.e. intellectual and/or emotional understanding); and (3) hearing with the spirit, the whole being:
The goal of fasting is inner unity. This means hearing, but not with the ear; hearing, but not with the understanding; hearing with the spirit, with your whole being.
The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another. But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind. Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties.
And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind.
Fasting of the heart empties the faculties, frees you from limitation and from preoccupation. Fasting of the heart begets unity and freedom.
Heart-mind fasting births a kind of “emptiness” that Chuang Tzu (via Thomas Merton) explains thusly:
Look at this window: it is nothing but a hole in the wall, but because of it the whole room is full of light. So when the faculties are empty, the heart is full of light. Being full of light it becomes an influence by which others are secretly transformed.