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  • Writer's picturedavidauten


Real listening is dangerous, the antecedent to change, an essential opening to the beautiful and terrible, as well as mundane and insipid dimensions of experience, and the prerequisite of any substantive connection with another beyond simple cohabitation and coexistence. Indeed, what often masquerades as civilization is nothing more than the phenomenon of children’s parallel play, writ large for people of all ages. True engagement with another and with ourselves happens only as we surrender our preconceived notions of who we think we are, or ought to be, and likewise who we believe the other is, or ought to be, and instead open wide our ears and our hearts to the one who is actually there. Listening is vulnerability in elemental form. When we listen to another we receive not only something of the delights and insights of that life into our own but also its pain, passion, and confusion. We are altered, and become alters of our former selves, the moment we begin really listening to a person, our perceptions of reality ever so slightly shifting as we are presented with other possibilities to what we deem normal, obvious, and irrefutable. It may be entirely more convenient therefore not to hear the truth of what is happening in the deep recesses of a soul. Listening hurts, eventually, as much as it holds the potential to heal. Unless we are genuinely curious about others, and ready to receive the unknown, we have little incentive to listen.

Listening to ourselves is no less precarious, for we may not like what we hear. Our inner world is filled with a variety of voices, each representing some aspect of self, what we prize most highly, and dread most deeply. Discerning those voices that have our best in mind is not always easy. The voices are commonly discordant. They vie for attention. Some are louder though less noble than others, while some are like a still, small voice offering precious counsel that can be difficult to discern amidst an inner cacophony. Still, listening is not something we need to learn, or relearn. Real listening seems to be entirely innate, immediately noticeable in our first few moments beyond the world of the womb, and no doubt before then as well. When we are born, we listen, without any education or prompting, and with great care, instinctually honing in on the familiar voice of our mother, and paying close attention to the novelty of our surroundings, an unexplored domain filled with peril and pleasure. Through the passage of time we may become hard of hearing an inner voice that loves us wholly, and we may grow accustomed to moving too fast through the world and our relationships, frequently tuning out rather than in. But we never lose our ability to recognize true voice, and often all that is required is slowing down, long enough to hear the whispers of wisdom once again, and then, finding the courage to surrender to the birth of a new becoming, authentic and essential to our lives.


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