deep listening

Deep Listening: The Sense that Makes Sense When We Eat

Connecting With Food – Episode 2

In my previous post, I had written about how eating is an experience that we learn by watching others. This means that the brain connects the activity to the reaction, in order to instruct us how to act accordingly.

My sister-in-law loves spicy food. My brother and I usually wonder at her capability to digest hot dishes without hurting her insides. Turns out, her family had always indulged in spicy food. It was their style of cooking, which my sister-in-law had blended into. Her brain has always connected food and spice together with a “like” reaction.

Children learn by watching their family. But, it is human nature to subject itself to change, and soon, change might outgrow our initial learning patterns. So, some of us change our eating patterns as we grow older and enjoy new experiences. This also means that the childhood phase of learning from others weans into learning more from oneself.

Learning is something that is fed by our experiences – things that we see, hear, feel, taste and so. In the rich sensory experience that is called eating, the sense of sight, smell, taste and feel are receiving this enrichment. But there is one sense that is left out…

And that is the sense of hearing

But is it really left out? Actually, not. Imagine yourself to be a toddler watching your family eat. You are not only watching them eat, and observing their reactions, you are also hearing what they are talking with each other.

If you are an adult who is talkative over the dinner table, then you are either following a pattern that you have learnt from your talkative family, or consciously trying to break a pattern that you have grown to hate. This is the same with silent dinner table routines.

How does this happen?

We are always doing activities like working on the computer, reading, cooking or relaxing. These activities involve the working of certain senses together, and leave out others. For example, if you are cooking, then you would see the food, smell it and feel it. Maybe later, you would taste it. This activity leaves out the other sense of hearing. While all the other senses are working consciously, the hearing seems to be deactivated. But it is not so.

Blind people have an increased sense of smell, hearing, feel and taste. This is because as one sense is deactivated, the others are able to absorb more information. It is the same from the other side of the coin. When four other senses are absorbed in an activity, the one sense that is not consciously used, begins to absorb more information than the other four.

And so, when we are eating, the brain’s connection with the ear helps us develop what is called “deep listening.”

What is Deep Listening?

My son and his friend were playing a board game. His mother and I were whispering that it would be ok if the boys woke up later the next day. But we didn’t tell them that loudly because that would have led to demands of going to bed late. But, an hour later, when we shooed them to bed, my son’s friend turned towards his mother and informed her about the “whispered” conversation demanding to go to bed later.

Everyone can connect with this when we hear our children talk the talk we thought they hadn’t heard. Even as I am typing this article, I am aware of the conversation that my husband is having with his boss over the phone.

So, Why Choose Food?

When a baby is born, one of the first things that calms it down is milk. So, the baby’s brain then begins to associate food with calm. And when it is engaged in the act of eating, it is also engaged in the act of listening to the person who is calming it down. When the same person keeps calming the baby on a loop, food and calm get connected to the person giving the food.

The baby begins to trust the person who calms it down the best. Usually, it’s the mother. That is how we develop the habit of listening to our mother.

This trust, based on different situations, will either spill over to other members of the family or not. And when we trust someone, we listen to them, and try to do what they tell us to do.

How do meal-times shape our personality? Find out how in my next post.

But before that let’s do some self-introspection;
• Who did you share meal-times with as a child?
• Do you remember the topics of your dinner-table conversations from childhood?
• Did you like them?
• If not, why didn’t you like them?
• What are the conversations you would like to have now?


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