Listening carefully

One of my favorite David Whyte poems begins like this:

“Sometimes
if you move carefully
through the forest

breathing
like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound, […]”

I find this quality of being quietly present in the world very challenging. Even when I’m alone, I tend to be caught up in projects, inner chatter, doing things… anything but silence.

And so I practice sitting silently for at least a half hour daily, listening attentively to those very quiet voices deep inside me that otherwise would not be heard.

When, a few weeks ago, I got so caught up actively “doing” in the world that I started skipping this practice, I was gifted with a dream:

I’m walking through a sand-dune landscape. I stop to rest and hear very faint rustling. When I look carefully, I see two translucent puffball shapes, very similar to dandelion puffs but larger. As I gaze at them, I see beaks and eyes starting to emerge. I realize that this is the (dream) way that baby swans emerge into the world. But when I make a movement, I startle the swans and they disappear into thin air. I study the ground carefully and see traces of down forming a faint trail. I walk softly, following the trail to a hollow space in a rock cliff. A bush is growing in the hollow with similar downy shapes on it. I realize that the ‘baby swans’ have found this place to hide and feel relieved that they are safe.

The dream was reminding me to sit quietly again, to listen to what is almost inaudible and see what is almost invisible.

David Whyte’s poem continues:

“you come
to a place
who’s only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere. […]

When we do sit quietly and listen carefully, we hear things that can shape our lives and lead us to where we really need to go. Which is not necessarily where we’re heading right now. It is a challenge and a blessing.

(Poem Sometimes by David Whyte, from River Flow: New and Selected Poems, Langley, Many Rivers Press 2012)

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