The sun rises over a sea so still it glistens like polished glass.
Pale yellows break through the veil of night slowly lifting the sky to the colors of day.
In the distance, the first sounds of seabirds fill the air. The gull, the pelican, the high pitch of the tern, and the sharp cry of the osprey blend together in their frenzied hunt for food. I work to listen, separating each ‘voice’ of the winged species.
It’s so infrequent that I am able to experience the intensity of the natural world as in this moment. Our wildly speeded lives drag us from our sensitivities and throw us into do-do-do behavior.
It’s simple. We have bills to pay. Things to buy. Stuff to make.
So simple, in fact, that we sacrifice the very heart of our connections and bury ourselves in activities.
In this new year, one of my self-promises is to continue to listen, to learn more clearly how to hear. Not just the call of the tern and the osprey, but the voices of my friends and family.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Nobel Prize nominee, speaks of training ourselves to be present to the to those we love: To practice DEEP LOOKING, and to listen with calm and understanding. In this way only, he teaches, can we really know another human being – their joys, their needs, and their suffering.
How many people do I really know in such a fashion? Are there any?
Most often, I have a series of filters firmly in play. I hear what I believe I need to hear, words that either provide new information or confirm a position that I already hold. I’m comfortable with my own convictions. I’ve spent years molding them, honing them, burying my feet deeply in their ‘truth’.
To relinquish my convictions is a significant challenge. But if I hold my own tried course, is this knowing that Hanh describes, really possible?
At a recent dinner, the conversation shifted to addiction, a rather volatile topic. One of the conversants argued that addiction was nothing more than weakness. Another argued with equal fervor that addiction had genetic roots and the body was susceptible to chemical dependencies.
Neither position was right nor wrong. Each person had come to their point of view through the course of a life well lived. Experiences, family of origin, world exposures had informed both men.
This is the crux of learning to hear. To listen and understand – reach to truly understand. In the man who sees weakness, I begin to grasp that weakness is a condition he has never allowed himself to experience. Or if he had, he has chastised himself for the emotion.
By simply letting go of what I believe I KNOW, I can discover within this man another way of being. This does not necessitate that I change my point of view, only that I am present to his values. I can hear the messages of his heart, without the coloration of my own.
I am reminded in this practice, that I am but one voice, one body, in this huge sea of life. My path to this moment a series of coincidences, planning, hard work and luck mixed with serendipity.
If I am truly to grow in my world understanding, a task I challenge each of us to tackle, then I must honor that which is different. This does not mean that I acquiesce my own belief systems, only that I recognize that there are others held with equal intensity.
The loud squawk of a group of pelicans and the splunk of their simultaneous headfirst dives break my thought pattern. Behind the offshore islands, the sun breaks free in a bold display of blinding white-gold light.
A new day has begun.