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How Do I Listen?

Several year ago, I watched a PBS show about a branch of neuroscience called Contemplative Mindfulness. Rudolph Tanzi is central in this work which grew out of research by Richard Davidson, Ellen Langer, and Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mindful practices have been with us for centuries and informed Jesus’, the Buddha’s and Mohammed’s teachings. Mindful listening begins with me listening to the other, moves outward, and is eloquently described by Hafiz, a Sufi poet. Mindful listening requires humility those teachers emulated in lived practice as the servant as leader.

In a world that seems filled with ego and narcissim, listening to the other is essential to healing the world and each human. I am re-reading Ivan Illich and authors who use his work. His best known book is Deschooling Society, which was originally titled The Dawn of Epimethean Man and Other Essays. The title was changed by the publisher, something Illich regretted later.

Illich was a priest and his writing, including about education, was informed by The Parable of the Good Samaritan. His understanding was we do not get to choose who are neighbours are. Instead, others we encounter depend on us to listen and demonstrate compassion, dropping our ego in the process. It also fits with Epimetheus who was more comfortable with uncertainty than his more famous sibling, Prometheus.

Encountering the stranger as neighbour comes both with reward and risk. The words hospitality and hostile are linked etymologically.

How

Do I

Listen to others?

As if everyone were my Master

Speaking to me

His

Cherished

Last

Words.

Here is a Mary Oliver reading I Happened To Be Standing and an inteview with her. You have to wait until the end to get to the listening aspect. Being mindful weaves its way through the poem.

I walked a mile with Pleasure

This is a difficult post. I started it this morning and let the day unfold around Robert Browning Hamilton’s poem. I sensed it would be a day of both pleasure and sorrow.

I resigned from my teaching position. I won’t go back next year. There is nothing calling me back now. My heart has a special place for Stony. It is not a school. It is more, a community where people meet, greet each other, and learn together. That faded and I leave while I still hold the goodness and richness I found there; my narrative  untarnished.

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.

I learned the most about who I was and about what was important to me through loss. I almost resigned a year ago, but Kathy, with her uncommon common sense, convinced me, for various reasons, to return. I am glad I did. I looked forward to work each day and learned with this small group of students. I completed grieving about the loss of a one of a kind school, “but, oh! The things I learned from her/When sorrow walked with me.” Last year was the wrong time to leave. I would have remembered only the bitter and not tasted the richness of the fruit this journey bore.

John Kabat-Zinn said, “Find a Job with a capital J. Stop doing other people’s work.” I would add one small caveat: complete the journey before you exit. Leave nothing behind and look back only at the good that came of it. Know you served well those you met on the path. Hold your head high.

Of Mere Being

Wallace Stevens wrote this beautiful reminder that we each have work to do. I recall something Jon Kabat-Zinn said: “Find a Job with a capital J. Stop doing someone else’s work. Find work that makes you complete.” I paraphrase here. It is easier to be fully present as fulfilled persons.

Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer wrote about the common roots of voice and vocation. I find meaning and completion in the work I do. Somehow, I make the world a better place. As I find my voice, my being made whole and any holes in that being filled. I understand the meaning  of my life’s song  with perhaps no clear meaning to anyone else.

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze distance.

A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

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