I’ve been trying to listen these days.
Not to listen for something, or someone – not even a still, small voice. I’ve been trying to listen – full stop. I’ve purposed to listen, every now and then, without deciding in advance what I’ll hear. It is an interesting exercise, and one I would readily commend to all. I can assure you, however, that it is harder than it first appears, and in truth my success in this venture is frighteningly fraught with failure.
It is a bit like the meditative exercise of sitting still and attending to your breathing. Soon, you find yourself thinking about what’s up at work, or how will I resolve this issue, or that. The only difference is that I do this while walking, or standing, or sitting. My eyes are not closed. I have no desire to empty my anything. Instead I aim simply to listen. And I have been a bit surprised in this.
The other day for instance, I listened while I walked across campus. I had just spent some time at the gym, and was making my way back to my office. The first thing I noticed was the tap of my feet on the sidewalk below me. And then, to my utter amazement, I noticed that I heard the footsteps of two young men 50 metres or so, in front of me. I didn’t hear their voices. I’m not sure if they weren’t speaking, or my ears were differently attuned. But the cadence of my steps, and theirs, served as a kind of Grundton for music of my journey.
On Saturday, my wife and I were down prepping the deck of our sailboat, Santa Maria, for fresh paint before she moves from the hard to her summer slip. As the day ebbed away, I took a break while Gwenanne did some last-minute touch-ups with Bondo, I stood still and listened to hear: the lilt of chickadee, red wing black bird’s trill, wind strumming branches and water settling into shore. It was a miracle of sorts.
It is now deep in the night and as I sit the clock walks its circular path, ticking each step as purposeful as any step I have ever taken. Softly, but noticeably, in the back the gas fireplace makes sound: now a click, now a whoosh of gas, and then later the fan kicks in a blaze of sound. All the while a I perceive a low, but steady ring in my ears. I can imagine how painful this latter would be if it were louder and persistent.
I’ve heard of rooms where all the sound is shut out, and all you can hear, in them, is your body’s sounds. Perhaps, finally, there is no silence in our lives. There is always the beat of heart, the swoosh of blood through veins and arteries. There is always sound, it seems: ever an acoustic horizon for the play of our pathway from cradle to grave. But then, again, I wonder about the experience of those deaf
The bible talks of sheer silence, when Elija meets God. I can only imagine its sound, or not…