Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hearing Without Listening

"The Sound of Silence"
- at the break of day -

This morning as I woke up,  I noticed that I was actually listening to the sound of a profound silence that happens out here in the desert at the dawn of the day – no movement in our house or in the neighborhood, no car sounds, no distant sounds of a radio or a TV, just silence - a silence so loud that it was almost frightening.  

I reflected on just how much I have always resisted silence throughout most of my life and I concluded that my resistance probably stemmed from my need to always be in control.  When I filled my mind with my thoughts, spoke incessantly using my words and filled the hours of the day with my activity, at some level I felt somehow that "I" was in control of it all, the world was operating according to my agenda. Maybe that’s why the sound of absolute silence sometimes seems a bit frightening to me - it makes me feel “out of control.”

It seems to me that I have often conformed to the popular culture of today's busy world, in which most people are so preoccupied with their own thoughts that they hardly do any listening at all, and silence is to be avoided at all cost.  Most people nowadays are always “insanely busy” all the time - emails and iPhones, pecking away at a computer, everyone so involved in their own thinking.

People hear but hardly ever take the time to actually listen to a world outside of themselves. Even in conversations with other people, so many of us are so engaged with our own thoughts that we hardly even pay attention to what someone else is saying - lots of hearing without listening.

As I sat and basked in the utter stillness of this morning’s desert dawn, I thought of something Zen master and monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said about silence:

Silence is often described as the absence sound and yet
silence is a very powerful sound.

Living in a desert has taught me a great deal about the sounds of silence. When I listen in silence it’s not like I hear no sounds; rather, I hear more sounds, maybe even all the sounds outside of my own isolated self, sounds that I often missed before because I only wanted to hear the sound of my "self."

This morning as I sat in the deep stillness of the dawning day I noticed the sound of wind swooshing in the palm trees, the sand blowing around in my garden, the sound of a chirping bird with a song of hope for a day about to dawn. In the silence there was more sounds rather than no sounds.

Buddhists often talk about the importance of deep listening as a discipline on the path of enlightenment. As I walk my spiritual path, I want to do more than be a better listener, I want to be a deep listener – I deeply listen when I pay attention to the sounds of all that is not me.

Thich Nhat Hanh also said:

When you've been able to still all the noise inside of you,
when you've been able to establish silence, a thundering silence,
you begin to hear the deepest kind of calling within yourself.

In the thundering silence of this morning’s dawn, I also realized that my resistance to silence in my life has also profoundly influenced the way I pray and deeply affected my experience of “God” who is beyond my own thoughts and ideas.

I have always “said my prayers,” but my prayers, like the rest of my life, were always filled with my sounds and my words - and so in a very real sense this even left me in control of “God” who I was able to keep at arms length.

As I listened to the deep stillness of this morning’s dawn I could hear the sounds that were not me and experience a power that was beyond me – I was listening deeply to the voice of “God”.

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