When I speak about listening, I don’t just mean the auditory element. I also use “listening” as a synonym for awareness beyond the sense of hearing.
So when I suggest that you listen, you can go to sound first if you’d like, but then you let go of sound so that there’s just pure awareness. “Looking” is also used as a synonym for this broader sense of awareness. Looking at the way things are is obviously not just a visual experience. Rather, it points to a knowing of the truth of the moment’s experience.
In the development of their meditation practice, most meditators find some way of abiding in the present moment which indicates that the mind is not caught up in preoccupations. Part of it is just the letting go of thought; part of it is having a sign. Ajahn Sumedho, for example, uses the sound of silence as his touchstone for being in the present moment. He says that when the mind is relaxed, open, attentive, awake, and non-grasping, you’ll hear this background silence. For other people, bodily feelings such as a sense of physical relaxation may signal this open, accepting state of consciousness.
As I meditate, I note my state of mind and the state of the body, especially with respect to bodily tension. When I’m anticipating any kind of result from my practice, my body informs me of this by exhibiting traces of tension throughout the body. If my mind is serene and receptive as opposed to being in a “wanting” state, then the body is physically relaxed.
Do you have any signs or indications in your own practice that signify for you the calm and spacious mind? These are very helpful signposts that are usually quite individual in nature.
This reflection by Ajahn Viradhammo is from the book, The Contemplative’s Craft, (pdf) pp. 147-148.