“I can’t believe you;” he said, “at your age, you are certainly keeping up—chatting online, posting on facebook, keeping up with the latest technologies…cell phone, iPod, cable radio, satellite television, web page, Google reader…”

At first I felt complimented. As he had meant me to feel. Only later, in the small, silent hours of night, did it occur to me that there are two sides to this, as there are, of course, two sides to everything.

I greatly admire, sometimes even envy, the younger generations who have so much available to them, with such incredible ease. What took me years of research in a variety of libraries to assimilate about ancient religions, for example, can now be acquired instantly online, stored in a “cloud” on some great computer in the sky, and called into play by “tags” that index instantaneously. It all makes me want to live forever, the better to indulge my insatiable curiosity about everything under the sun. So I celebrate the new advances in technology, and I will and do use them gratefully.

However, at my age, because of my age, I have another point of reference. Not being born into the age of electronics, into the age of instant and easily acquired on-line information accessible from dozens of “aps,” I had to develop other ways of knowing, of learning, of seeing and hearing. I have relied on them all my life, honing my skills, deepening my intuition and my intellect, exercising parts of my brain and parts of my visual and auditory and all other aspects of my “sensorium,” so that I am quite skilled in listening and in acquiring information in another way.

And, even as I embrace enthusiastically the new devices and methods, even as I celebrate “transparency” and “democratic access to information,” I also am aware of a great danger—the danger of our people losing something so essential to the human condition that its loss could be catastrophic.

And what is that? The simple art of silence, and of listening, really listening.

Cultivate the art of deep listening in which you lean toward the world in love. All things in the universe want to be heard, as do the many voices inside us. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

Not everything is “wired” or “wirelessly” connected to us through humanly constructed devices. Some communications, and those most important, I think, arrive quite otherwise.

You can listen without any resistance because your mind has space and silence…If the mind is not overcrowded, not ceaselessly occupied, then it can listen to that dog barking, to the sound of a train crossing the distant bridge, and also be fully aware of what is being said by a person talking here. Then the mind is a living thing, it is not dead. J. Krishnamurti

The ability really to pay attention seems to be becoming more and more rare. Every school teacher I know remarks upon this, and tells me that it is only getting worse. We have a name for it, and medication. Attention deficit disorder. It is said to be a brain disorder, a condition that can be pinpointed, treated. But those parents and teachers who deal with children with this disorder tell me that it is not so easily treated.

And I fear that this condition is the effect of generations of people living in an environment that promotes over-stimulation of certain parts of the brain, and an under-stimulation of other parts. I think we must correct this imbalance if we are to survive as a species. That’s not just the word of a mystic, but also of every good scientist, every paying-attention mother, every great artist, teacher, and counselor.

Again, I am not saying that we should not make the most excellent use of the emerging technologies. They are priceless and great gifts. But like all things taken in excess, they can be destructive. When we consistently over-indulge, even the most nutritious food can kill us. I am talking about balance, of course.

An astronomer used to wander outside each night to observe the heavens. One evening, as he wandered through town with his eyes fixed on the sky, he fell into a deep well. He cried for help until a neighbor arrived and called down to him. Learning what had happened, the neighbor said, “Why pry into heavens when you cannot see what is here on earth?” Aesop

As you know, what is here on earth is essential to my sense of spirituality–the life of the plants, the minerals, the air, the water, the mountains, the clouds, each of you in your material uniqueness—all this is pervaded by the mystery of Great Spirit. And so I treasure this world and all its specific details. It is part of my spiritual discipline to pay attention to it all.

I am, by Native American terms, a “hawk,” and the gift of the hawk in nature is that he can see not only the big picture from far up in the sky but can also perceive tiny details, like that of a snake or a mouse that will make a fine meal for the hawk’s dinner.

The big picture, and the minute detail. Paying attention, without deficit or disorder. A talent, a skill, learned, essential to survival. Not only my skill, but that, until recently, the skill of most of the human race.

Among the ancient Greeks the hawk was a symbol for the god Apollo, also known as the god of reason and intellect. So I’m not just talking about something mystical here. But it is true that whenever a knowing Greek saw a hawk fly by on his right side, he took that as a sign that the god Apollo, the god of reason and order, would be with him in his present endeavors. It certainly benefited the heroes of Greek epic to pay attention to whether or not the powers were on his side at the moment, whether the battle was propitious, whether the timing was right, whether things were in alignment. It would benefit us, as well, to have many means of discerning such things. And indeed, many signs are always available to us if we know how to apprehend them.

Carl Jung, in his analysis of the structure of the psyche, has distinguished four psychological functions that link us to the outer world…Sensation is the function that tells us that something exists; thinking, the function that tells us what it is; feeling, the function that evaluates its worth to us; and intuition, the function that enables us to estimate the possibilities inherent in the object or its situation. Joseph Campbell

I fear that all of these functions are, in our time, endangered by a loss of the talent for true listening, listening not just to the usual “plugged in” or “tuned in” programmed sounds of our devices, but rather another kind of listening and paying attention. We must pay attention, directly, to things in the natural world, as well as to that which arises seemingly out of our deep silence.

You can learn about the pine only from the pine, or about bamboo only from bamboo. When you see an object, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself; otherwise you impose yourself on the object, and do not learn… Matsuo Basho

When, recently, I became preoccupied with the presidential election and listened endlessly to reports about this and that, I noticed that I was forgetting lots of practical things around me, little items that I normally would remember.

I think our brains are enormous storage facilities, serviced by our various senses and ‘sixth senses’ that have developed as life sustaining tools over all the generations of life on earth. And our brains are ready, it seems, to call to our conscious attention anything we need, at any time. Almost certainly transcending time and space. And species.

Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me? I think they hang there Winter and Summer on those trees and only drop fruit as I pass. Walt Whitman

Large and melodious thoughts. Details of our own personal everyday lives. Communications from all sorts of life “out there,” even that which is vastly mysterious and unknown to us.

The people of Findhorn, Scotland, believe that the consciousness of trees goes beyond the sawmill, that they are aware of the homes into which they are made and the people they shelter…this home…this chair…this page…It is here. Diane K. Osbon

Now whether you would agree with that statement or not, we all know that the truth is, we block out awareness, our deep knowing, by any narrowing of our span of attention. Narrow-mindedness is really the worst kind of ignorance. And often the most dangerous.

…every failure to cope with a life situation must be laid, in the end, to a restriction of consciousness. Wars and temper tantrums are the makeshifts of ignorance; regrets are illuminations come too late. Joseph Campbell

So, again, I think it is so important for me as an elder to remember, and to remind whoever will listen, of those ancient and essential other ways of being transparent, of being attuned, of interacting with a vastly larger reality than is usually paid attention to these days.

Tonight I walk. I am watching the sky. I think of the people who came before me and how they knew the placement of stars in the sky, watched the moving sun long and hard enough to witness how a certain angle of light touched a stone only once a year. Without written records, they knew the gods of every night, the small, fine details of the world around them and of immensity above them…Walking I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.” Linda Hogan

I know, I know, I hear you. Modern life. The demands upon the time and attention of working parents. The television as child care. The positiveness of the development of that side of the brain of babies who can operate all these devices at such an early age. And also, the malaise, the endless longing for wildness and wilderness and communion, while being trapped in the city, in the job. But this listening I’m talking about, I keep saying, is a practical thing. Information you need is trying to get through to you.

After nearly eighteen years of uninterrupted service, our freezer one day failed to cool its contents. A serviceman made the repair and then asked to use our vacuum, explaining that a key part of the freezer had over-heated because of all the dust and cat fur under it…Later, coming to sign the service slip, we were greeted with this news: “Your freezer breathed a huge sigh of relief when I vacuumed.”
“You talk to the machines?” I asked.
“Talk and listen; in my line of work , you have to.”

In any line of work, we have to listen. So, even though I know this can be taken as just one more thing you have to do, to remember, I hope you can see it, actually, as a means of setting you free.

All that we need is there for us, waiting to inform us, if we just tune in, to the right channel. It may be a computer, it may be the iPhone, it may be the radio, but it most certainly will be the deep silence that contains the wisdom of the ages.

To begin, or to begin again, this practice, as always, perhaps, we can think in small as well as large ways.

When I lived in crowded Southern California, we were blessed to have an empty lot next door to us, a lot on which some old avocado trees still grew. I dubbed it “the wilderness area” and encouraged my children to climb over our wooden fence and go play there, digging great holes in the dirt, throwing ripe avocados at each other (and, I discovered to my dismay one day, at passing cars on the adjacent street), and to sink into even that little bit of wilderness. To this day, they’d know what I meant if I referred to “the wilderness area.” And as often as I could, I got them out into real wildness, into the national parks and to the beaches. I taught them to listen to the intuition of their own being, even often asking one of them beforehand which freeway we should take that might have the least traffic. And I know they carry that forward today in their own parenting. Just as we teach our children about computers, we can and I think must teach them about other forms of communication, other listening methods.

As I began to take an interest in my dreams, I became aware for the first time in my life that God wanted to speak to me. It was during a difficult time that a friend advised me to pay attention to my dreams. I soon noticed that there was a wisdom greater than mine that spoke to me in my dreams and came to my aid. Morton Kelsey

Dreams, intuitions, a backlog of acquired information stored in our brains, senses and thoughts and creative impulses—these and other things are all there for us, trying to break through the barriers we set up that block such communications, trying to aid us in our need. The main barrier today just may be all the other communication devices that capture our attention. We need, again I say, occasionally to enter into silence, not just in formal meditation, but in an everyday sort of quietness that is simply open to receive and respond to an impulse, to an idea, to an intuitive awareness, to a memory, to something singing, somewhere, for each and every one of us.

There are occasions when you can hear the mysterious language of the Earth, in water, or coming through the trees, emanating from the mosses, seeping through the undercurrents of the soil, but you have to be willing to wait and receive. John Hay

So that’s it. My thoughts for the day, the ones that came to me in the silence of the night, along with the reminder for me to clean out the spring box and to pay attention to whether the ants had gotten into the wiring around the aerobic septic or the air conditioning unit, things I hadn’t considered in some time.

All things are speaking to me. I’m trying to listen.

The good news
They do not print.
The good news
We do print.
We have a special edition every moment,
And we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
That the linden tree is still there,
Standing firm in the harsh Winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer you the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
And help project them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
Smiling its wondrous smile,
Singing the song of eternity.
Listen! You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow
And preoccupation
And get free.
The latest good news
Is that you can do it.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Subscribe for email updates

Enter your email address:

Blog Posts