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In many ways, writing is listening and simply taking notes. One of the reasons I love the process of writing is that it enables me to listen until my loneliness opens into a blessed sense of aloneness. The gift of deep silence is that it allows us to let go of what we want so we can receive what we have.
I’ve always been a learner of the heart, not a specialist of the mind. I can dissect and hone and prune away the excess. But the shimmer of Wholeness and the dynamics of Oneness show themselves when we can absorb and integrate rather than sort and choose.
As a young writer, I would try so hard to be a mirror, to reflect back to everything its color and verve. But as a more experienced writer, I try to be a window now, to open a threshold between people and the inner world.
Being still and listening allows us to behold what is before us. The deepest form of bearing witness is to behold another in all their innocence. This is the key to love. To listen until the noise of the world subsides. To listen until the noise of the mind subsides. To listen until the noise of our wounds subsides. To listen until we only hear the life before us.
Here’s a story about listening. Legend has it that Christopher Dock, a Colonial school master, would come to his classroom early and, with no one there, he would stand behind his lectern and recite each of his students’ names under his breath, holding them in his heart. In this way, he would pray for them. He did this daily. And one day, after a lifetime of teaching, he shuffled in early and beheld each of his students, one by one, each in his heart. Midway, he fell and died behind his lectern as the sheet filled with names followed him like a leaf.
Now the question arises, which served his students more? His beholding them with compassion each day before they arrived? Or his critical honing of their minds? And which serves us more: beholding the world with compassion as we meet it, or chopping a path through the days with what we want?
It is not by accident that both poetry and prayer rise out of stillness, as both are the function of deep listening. So don’t try to get anywhere when you write or when you pray. Simply still yourself and listen and soon, in time, the Mystery will begin to speak to you, through its thousand disguises as life on Earth.
Like all young writers, I resisted this in favor of a dream of fame. I worked very hard to create something great out of nothing. Only to exhaust my dreams and finally listen. Then, the poems came. Then, the books came. Then, unasked-for-connections dropped in front of me like rain.
When young, I searched for my voice, never realizing what I searched with was my voice. Older, I wanted vision, never realizing what I looked with was vision itself. Now losing track of quests and years, I just want light, which between people is simply love. Now I realize that wanting light is a form of light, and wanting love is what makes the Earth turn to the Sun. So fundamental that we don’t even see it, so elemental that we call it physics and look for love elsewhere.
A Question to Walk With: As you move through your day, listen for one detail through which life is speaking to you. In your journal, describe what carries this one detail. Then tell the story of finding this detail to a friend.
This excerpt is from my book, Drinking from the River of Light: The Life of Expression, forthcoming from Sounds True (Sept 2019).