Practicing Listening


If you, over the course of several years and maybe a lifetime, ask yourself the question “what am I doing?” over and over and over again, ask your journal, the trees, the fields, your best friends who’ve heard it all before and who look at you with loving exasperation, random dogs, the cat, the candles, the tarot decks, maybe god, your family, here are some things that happen.

You learn there are a lot of things you aren’t, in fact, doing, and actually don’t want to do.

A lot of teachers show up, including strangers, and books.


You learn that the answer doesn’t come directly, that you have to listen pretty hard but also diffusely. And you have to practice listening to what doesn’t come directly - the wind, the sounds of geese over the water, the ways someone else’s voice changes when they get a glimpse of what it is they are supposed to be doing.


You learn that the answer both matters so much and really not at all. Is there a difference to the world if you spend your days talking on the phone with people, typing vigorously at the computer, feeling smart and awesome; or just walk up and down the road feeling the sun on your back? You’ll probably get one answer from the trees and another from the fox and another from the internet or your neighbor or your beloveds.


Some days you get a glimpse like “oh damn that’s IT! OF COURSE!” and the next day it’s like you’re reading a note you wrote when you woke up in the night and knew the missing key to the universe and quickly scribbled it down and went to sleep feeling like you’d really solved everything. And the next day you look at the notebook and it’s full of unreadable scribbles and the only word you can make out is "broccoli."


You learn that if you aren’t at the center of some larger plan to punish or judge or make life perfect for you, then sometimes it’s clearer - just be there for people and share what you have and notice when you’re being an asshole and don’t worry so much about if you’re keeping up or behind. You are not owed everything or anything from some abstract “head person in charge,” but we can and do give each other everything - belonging, love, safety, care, recipes, seedlings, jokes.


You learn, too, that the questions don’t go away, and that you can build a life around asking questions and following the guidance you receive: from your body, from the earth, from those books that show up at your elbow in the bookstore, the vultures, the scrap of pottery that reminds you of someone you loved, the poem your friend sends you out of the blue, on and on.


I wonder, what is it you’re learning these days? What questions are following you around?