Monday, August 25, 2014

The Discipline of Listening

"Silence at Sunset"

Some friends from Los Angeles were here visiting this weekend. As we sat chatting with one another, one of our visitors suddenly turned to me and said, "It sure is quiet out here."  In fact, that's probably one of the very first things most people notice when they come out to the desert, especially if they are used to all the noise of a big city - it sure is quiet out here, and it's especially quiet at this time of year when all the tourists have headed out of town to escape the triple digit summer heat. 

I have been doing some thinking about the silence of the desert. Interestingly enough, although I am literally immersed in silence every day, I find that I am now "listening" more carefully. While the desert is quiet there are still plenty of sounds - the sounds of nature,  the sounds of everyday living in the neighborhood. Somehow because everything is so quiet,  I find myself paying closer attention to these sounds of everyday life.

The other day I came across a very helpful article in the magazine Spirituality and Health in which the author reflected on the importance of "listening" as a spiritual discipline:

Early human beings learned to survive by listening -- by constantly scanning their environment for an awareness of all sounds. But the modern world has become so full of white noise, so polluted by meaningless sound that people have 'literally' changed the way they listen.

Instead of keeping our ears open to everything, we tune out the drone of a leaf blower or the noisy sound of passing traffic and instead zero in on the squeal of tires while approaching a crosswalk.  We only listen for what we think is important and we filter out what is unimportant before we even hear it, and so we don't make ourselves available to all the sounds that come to us in the present moment.  

The desert quiet has helped me pay more attention to "all" the available sounds, and I find that when I am able to do this I become more mindfully aware - paying attention to the sounds of the everyday moment I am pulled into the "now," that place where "life" really happens. 

Listening carefully is a spiritual discipline. 

But the truth is that you don't have to live in a quiet place like a desert to practice the spiritual discipline of listening. Anyone of us can take off the headphones and remove the earbuds and make ourselves available to the sounds of everyday life. Sitting alone and meditating doesn't mean that we block out all the sounds that come to us-the present moment speaks to us in those sounds.  Driving a car, walking to school, shopping in the market, running on a treadmill at the gym, we can listen to the sounds- to all the sounds. And when we do that we are practicing the discipline of listening.

It's another quiet morning as I sit alone in my mediation garden here in the desert. I pay attention to the wind chimes, to the sound of the garden fountain, the swoosh of the hummingbirds, the wind in the palm trees.  A door slams, a truck rumbles in the distance, my dog is running around, the air conditioning has just come on - all the beautiful sounds of living everyday.

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