Sounds of Life

I’m curious about the sounds of life. We live in such an active world with so much noise and I wonder how often we give ourselves a chance to stand still and listen.

Listen and really hear.

Try it for a minute. I promise it will be worth it.

Close your eyes and release the visible world and slow your breathing so you can deeply listen to the sounds that surround you. How many can you name?

Are you surprised by the variety? Are there sounds you can’t identify?

Certainly, it matters where you are when you try this. We exist in so many different places, big cities, small towns, deserts, rain forests, seashores, all teaming with sounds.

A time long ago hearing and identifying sounds meant life or death. If you were being stalked by a hungry animal, you’d better have good hearing, if you wanted to survive.

In some places, this is as important now as it was long ago, even though the reasons may have changed.

Every so often I will stop what I am doing and try to still my mind. I’ll close my eyes and take in all the sounds I can. Sometimes there are too many for me to separate and I have to open my eyes back up to be able to name them.

I wonder about the sound words make. Folks might say the exact same word, but their inflection, tone, volume, and pronunciation are so different, that it seems it is not the same word at all.

I wonder, is it possible to know every word from every language on earth? How many words are there and why do they all exist? Is there such a variety because they all sound different?

Is it possible to know every sound that we humans are capable of making? And what of our fellow travelers on this earth and the sounds they make? All the creatures on land, in the water and above us in the sky?

What a catalogue that would be to record every sound.

And what of other entities, the trees, rocks, plants, and flowers? Do they have their own sounds and their own language?

I wonder, has every sound already been made or are new sounds created all the time? Is there a sound that was once made, but hasn’t happened in a long time, because what created it is no longer here? I wonder too will there be new sounds in the future?

What is this fascination of mine with sound and what might it have to do with you?

Here’s an idea to try.

Sounds create meaning and they give life depth and dimension.

I love so many sounds. The voices of those that touch my life, the honking of geese as they travel south for winter, the rush of the wind through the green pines, the ding of the food timer because I know something tasty is only a moment away, the infinite variety of music, hearing the heartbeat of a yet unborn child, the roaring of water cascading over a fall, the plaintive sigh of a train whistle, the beauty of laughter.

There are so many more.

My personal favorite though is the sound of my wife’s voice saying, “I love you”. And I have to admit, I love the sound of hearing her adorable wolf howl, when we’re outdoors staring at the full moon.

I encourage you to stop for a moment sometime today and open yourself to the world of sound. It is such a precious gift.

A Different Kind of Hero

There seem to be all kinds of heroes in the world. Most of them appear to share certain qualities like; bravery, conviction, courage and determination. Others exemplify honesty, strength, moral integrity and protection of the defenseless. And then there are those who offer themselves as a sacrifice for what is often considered, the greater good. Heroes seem to possess a selflessness and inspire others to do the same through their actions.

Several dictionaries believe a hero is a person who is admired or idolized or endowed with divine or mythical characteristics. They may be a warrior or one who has achieved unusual success, far beyond normal people.

I decided to check out the internet and see who is listed as a hero. This is one list I found; Minnie Vautrin, Norman Bethune, Alan Turing, Raoul Wallenberg, Chiune Sugihara, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Oswaldo Payá, Óscar Elías Biscet, and Aung San Suu Kyi.

I was surprised to discover I only knew four of the eleven names on the list. Why was that? Am I that out of touch with the idea of a hero?

And where were Mahatma Gandhi, Jonas Salk, Winston Churchill, to say nothing of all of the divine spiritual teachers who have lived and walked the earth?

I wondered what would happen if I went to a crowded place and asked people, as they passed by, who they considered to be a hero? A famous sports figure, a nurse or doctor, a musician, a super wealthy person, perhaps especially if they donated large sums to charities?

My heroes are closer to home. They are simple people who decide that it’s important to form deep relationships with others. They understand that listening is the key. They suspend their own opinions and beliefs, in order to understand another person’s point of view.

And, after listening carefully, they ask lots of questions. Ones aimed at revealing what is important and meaningful. They express empathy, so that they feel what it must be like to live in another’s world.

They consciously choose to explore. To move outside their own world and imagine a different kind of life. And yes, they choose to ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’.

To me, that’s a great image because it prompts a person to realize what it is like physically, to either squeeze into smaller shoes or slid around in larger ones, while still trying to walk. Neither is comfortable and both present their own complications.

Sometimes I can do this, but most of the time, I can only take a few steps before I fall out of the shoes or kick them off.

In my world, I see and have seen heroes, who brave others worlds. They move into and beyond the struggle of truly knowing the challenges others face and they stay with them until they understand. They stay and help figure out the best way forward.

Somehow, they make their feet fit into others shoes. They are splendid people who show a kind of daily courage I find extraordinary.

For thirteen years I worked in the field of assisting and supporting those with physical and developmental disabilities. There were incredible heroes I came into contact with every day. Those who received services and those who provided them, both walking a mile in each other’s shoes. It was truly an amazing experience and one I carry with me wherever I go. I salute them all.

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Skidding

Have you ever been driving, suddenly lose control and panic, thinking, what should I do next? Of course, you only have a split second to decide and act, which isn’t always enough time. So, because you feel like you need to do something, you react by steering hard in the opposite direction. This simple act of overcorrecting causes you to skid, increasing your loss of control.

Driving instructors will tell you to take your foot off the gas pedal, not to brake and to steer gently, but firmly in the direction you want to go. Sure, simple.

However, knowing what to do and being able to do it become two very different things.

Of course, there are lots of reasons why vehicles skid and it’s helpful to know about them, so that you can protect yourself and whoever else is with you.

Not only is it easy to skid in a vehicle, but it is also easy to skid around the corners of life. There are a lot of hazards and pot holes and curves we don’t see. And when they do pop up, we may not be paying enough attention and get caught off guard.

One of our temptations may be to overcorrect and make matters worse. This may create a chain reaction and make it difficult to regain any sense of control.

So, what would happen if we made small corrections instead?

There are so many examples we could use to illustrate this simple principle. I’d like to suggest one for consideration, but please feel free to insert your own here, if you would rather.

Political differences are fraught with danger as topics, because feelings and beliefs are so strong, they make it difficult to see where there could be any harmony. They tend to close minds and create perfect skidding conditions. They also tend to create numerous opportunities for oversteering.

Suppose we already knew this. Suppose we were prepared for difficult road conditions in life and knew there was only a small margin of error to work with.  What might we do differently?

What about a small steering correction?

What if we searched to understand why the person we’re talking with feels the way they do. What are they afraid of or concerned about? Is it possible that we might sympathize with their discomfort, if we knew their underlying concerns? Could what lies underneath be so different from what we feel or want?

If we tried small steering corrections and turned our wheels just a little, might we find out there are places where we agree? And, if we could find some, might we not be able to discover more.

There are folks whose opinions and beliefs I disagree with. Sometimes the distance is pretty wide. But, I’ve also found that below the surface, we agree that love is the answer to everything. We just need to give it a chance to breathe.

This is what I believe happens with small steering corrections.

I realize there are obvious limits to this idea, if who we are talking about is a fanatic, incapable of any rational discussion. But that’s on the extreme end. I know some folks can not or will not alter their course, so sometimes no matter what we do, a situation will not change.

To me, that isn’t a reason not to try. If we choose to listen with as open a mind and heart as we can, we might find that there is room to ‘take your foot off the gas, not brake and steer gently, but firmly in the direction you want to go’.

It might not be easy and it might take some practice, but it might also be worth it.

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Listening

I took the picture in the banner above last summer when part of my family was vacationing in the Adirondacks in New York State. The brook was at the back of the property and was a slice of heaven for me. I am most at home in the water and was able to lay, almost completely submerged, feeling the rush of energy from the water as it passed over my body. Pure bliss.

One of my favorite past-times is to create ‘rock people’. I’m sure it’s some kind of throwback to a former life where the formations guided my way when I traveled long distances.

I love being able to find rocks of all sizes and shapes and see how they fit together. It’s very tricky business to be able to balance them and every so often, they tumble and I have to start over. That’s okay with me. Maybe it’s just the rocks way of being part of the process, so I get it just right.

I like this photo because it suggests that one of the rock people is talking to the rest of the crowd. I’m not sure what a rock person would say to other rocks, but the scene intrigues me.

I started thinking about ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’ and how different the two concepts can be.

According to one on-line dictionary, hearing is the ‘faculty of perceiving sounds’, while listening is either, ‘giving one’s attention to a sound’ or ‘paying attention to what another is saying’.

I began wondering which I do more often. When someone is speaking, whether near me or to me, am I hearing them or listening to them? I am conscious of there being sound, recognizing cadence, tone and volume, but am I truly hearing

them?

I ask myself what kind of a listener am I? Am I an active participant or is my role more passive? No doubt I vacillate, depending on the speaker, the subject or the circumstances.

I also wonder, when I am listening, what is the quality of my attention? Am I evaluating what is being said or perhaps, judging the content? Am I listening, but also preparing for my response, so that my attention is split?

One further question jumps in, what part of me is doing the actual listening? Is it my head or my heart?

These are a lot of questions. I think they are worth considering.

You see, I am also a speaker of words, trying to convey thoughts and ideas and feelings. I want to be heard. Not just the sounds that come from me, but the essence that is me. Maybe you want that too.

It feels to me that true listening is a gift, one that is beyond measure. To have someone paying careful attention to what you are saying and also to what you are feeling. To have someone listening from their heart, what a joy-filled present to offer another.

So, how does one offer this? To me, that becomes the rich, fertile question.

I don’t know if it is humanly possible to be a good solid listener all of the time. We have so much going on inside ourselves that it makes it very difficult to be an open channel. That’s not meant as an excuse, but rather an observation.

I believe being an active, compassionate, deep listener comes from the place inside us that knows love. There is a connection between us and the speaker. Our heart takes over and our breath slows a bit and our mind stills. We let go of our need to be right and our desire to fix anything. We become sponges, absorbing the words, thoughts and feelings of another human being who is trying their best to navigate this wonderfully incredible world of ours. We open to their need to be heard. We recognize that we are a part of a sacred exchange.

What a treasure to experience the divine in the hearing of sound.

And what a beautiful thing it is to give the gift of listening to another.

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