To Listen and To Be



"I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love rather than what I fear. And at the end of my prayers, they teach me how to listen." - Terry Tempest Williams

This week I turned in the final pages for my new book. One whole segment is on the power To Keep Silence. In it, I reveal how I’ve spent a lifetime struggling against listening, and then – realizing it was the best teacher I was ever going to have – learning how to listen better, more deeply, and more clearly. Thus revealed, I get to listen to the parts of myself that feel uncomfortable with that. I get to open again to spaciousness and connection, brought on by practice. Discomfort only lasts if I court it. I've trained myself to gravitate toward other things:

This week, the persimmons are ripe and the birds are everywhere. Perfect timing.

I watch from my office window, occasionally venturing out, trying to get closer to the tree without disturbing: crows, large and black against the bare branches and bright orange globes, digging into the fruit, ripping open the flesh, eating. Then robins. Jays. Brown Towhee. They peck at the openings the crows have made. Next come the sparrows. Starlings. Finches. Phoebe. The surprising arrival of Cedar Waxwings, dandies among the rest. 

I listen. I watch. I breathe. I learn to be.

Inner listening is important, but so is tuning to what is around us. Both are vital to the examined life, because the examined life moves in the context of land, sky,  factories, noise, concrete, and the great silence of the stars. Terry Tempest Williams' birds.

What reminds you to listen? What drops you toward silence? To what do you pray?

8 Responses to “To Listen and To Be”

  1. Bob

    If prayer is expressing our thoughts/desires to the universe, how can we not listen when we expect the universe to do the same?

    I am reminded of a simple, but powerful, breathing exercise led by a voice teacher. He had the class stand, draw in a long, diaphragm-filling breath, then release it in a sudden ‘whoosh’. We did this several times, our breaths joining together in a sound like the crashing surf.

    “Feel the silence you’ve created,” the instructor noted, as we turned towards the day’s lessons. A moment of silence helped all of us focus and find our power/voice.

  2. Leanne Pemburn

    Cedar waxwings are always a surprise: suddenly arriving, suddenly gone. They travel in small flocks and take advantage of whatever food they can find, until it’s gone, and then they move to the next source. Their voices are high and complaining, their plumage is the finest airbrushed paint job in the hemisphere.

    • Thorn

      They are truly beautiful. I had never seen them before – not even during last year’s persimmon season.

  3. Rootrealm

    I think one of the biggest challenges for me in listening, is the amount of “not listening” or intentionally blocking out others that goes on in the world. I experience it and participate in this blocking out, too.

    I am intuitive: I can often hear what people are going to say before they say it, and when they begin to speak, I hear what they aren’t saying and what they may not even know. Because of what I can perceive, I find it tedious to listen to people speaking to me as if I could not see what I can see, and as if I am not who I am. When this happens, I begin to block them out and not listen any more, even to walk away, if that’s all that’s left to me to do. I experience fatigue and irritation being asked to listen to what I consider essentially unreal, and I tend to flee from it.

    At the same time, I realize that by judging other’s expressions, I am closing my heart to these people and losing the ability to take in more about who they are and what is happening: perhaps I’m losing a larger perspective. The challenge to listen for me involves finding appropriate relationships and boundaries (deciding who I want to listen to, and who I don’t care to listen to, where it is okay to close down or walk away) but also, where appropriate, to seek ways to stay open and listen at other levels, listening for people’s real essence beneath the unreality that they like many of us have to some extent in our lives. Listening to myself and my own pain at not being perceived or known is an important part of this too I think.

    • Thorn

      Rootrealm, you speak to important challenges to intuitives. Intuitives, even more than others, are so well served by remaining in touch with their center and circumference – their core and boundary. It is only from there that the deeper encounters you write about can happen. Otherwise one is OPEN or CLOSED rather than able to shift and adjust.

      Another thing that has helped me is cultivating more compassion for myself and others. They are expressing things to the best of their abilities: perhaps they aren’t fully aware of what’s going on, or perhaps they have fear, or perhaps they just need more time to assimilate things or work things out. Can I be patient with that? Can I learn to occasionally ask a question that might help open?

      Sometimes I used to want to rip off a bandage. That often doesn’t help.

      • Thorn

        and yes, figuring out who to have close relationships with and who to have more casual relationships with has been a big help to me.

        Sometimes, as you say, walking away is the right thing to do. Even if the reason is that is all *you* can handle at the time. Self-compassion.

      • Rootrealm

        Right: moving from the center is very important, I wish I could be there more. And, asking a question that will help open someone up, or help them move through to a deeper level, is ideal. When I have done this I get a warm, radiant & clear sense inside and thus know this is the best thing that could be done.


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