- At the Desert Retreat House -
My brother was out here in the desert visiting for a few days last week. One morning he turned to me and said, “It sure is quiet out here, isn’t it?” I smiled and said, “yep, it sure is.”
Interestingly enough, one of the very first things most people notice when the come out to the desert is how quiet everything is, especially if they are used to the noise of a big city. Often times this silence is so deep that it is somewhat disconcerting and even disorienting to many people; and this is especially true at this time of the year when all the tourists are gone and even many residents head up into the mountains or to the ocean coast to avoid the tripple-digit summer heat. It sure is quiet out here, even more quiet than usual – it may be my favorite time of the year.
I’ve been doing some thinking about the silence of the desert and realized that, although I am constantly immersed in this ocean of deep silence, I find myself recognizing and paying attention to more and more sounds than I ever did before in my everyday life.
I have found that when you can be comfortable with silence you learn how to be a better listener.
I remember something I read a while back in a Spirituality and Health magazine:
Early human beings learned how to survive by listening,
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 for everything,
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.
I try to begin each day by sitting quietly with an uncluttered and open mind, and I do my best to really listen to the deep silence of the desert. When I do this I find that I don’t tune out the world around me but rather become acutely aware of more sounds than I ever thought were there: the sounds of a fountain gurgling, the sounds of small desert birds landing on the fountain’s edges, the sounds of a gentle wind in the palm trees, a roadrunner rustling in the bushes, the buzzing sound of bees pollinating the flowers, the distant voices of hikers on a faraway trail, the humming of an air conditioner, a door as it slams.
As I listen to “all the available sounds,” I am also very aware of how often I don’t listen to all those sounds in the world of my everyday life. I think of how often I tune out the music each moment makes, how often I ignore or overlook what others may be saying or only listen for what I expect them to say.
I have come to realize that my discipline of listening in the deep silence is in fact far more than a meditation technique, it is a discipline in which I am training myself to “listen to my life,” to be attuned and attentive to all those available sounds that happen in every present moment.
I think I have become a better listener because I have learned to be comfortable with the silence.
But of course you don’t have to move out to the desert or even come here to visit in order to train yourself to listen to life. Any single one of us can unplug from the computer, turn off the TV, pull out the ear buds and mute the phone, as we take the time to make ourselves available to all the sounds that come to us. Sitting in silence and meditating with an uncluttered mind doesn’t mean that we learn how to “block out” the world but rather that we train our minds how to “listen” to it, listen to all it has to say.