Saturday, August 20, 2011

Listen Up!

How do you communicate with a tree? How do you talk to a stone, or an herb, or a spirit, or, for that matter, another person? The art of listening seems to have been lost. If it isn't lost, at least significantly narrowed in definition. We equate it with hearing, with passively experiencing information. I've been noticing just how much more active engagement real listening requires. In fact, truly communicating with someone requires a great shift in viewpoint on our part.

To talk to a tree, you need to become like a tree. Stand (or sit) still, breathe deeply, sink your roots into the earth, feel your branches sway and dance. Think you don't have roots or branches? Try to move away from those strict dictates of ordinary consciousness. Once you get comfortable and in contact with the ground, given a little effort, you'll find you have all the parts of a tree. Perhaps you just haven't been paying attention to them recently. Hinduism teaches us that we are all microcosms of the universe. That tree you want to ask for a branch, that spirit you've been trying to channel: you've got all the essential gear already within your own being. Moving through day to day life without spiritual focus, we've trained ourselves to identify things based on their disparities, but that's only a small portion of the perspective we can acquire by analyzing their similarities. Start by trying to talk to the tree inside you, and you'll find your way to the tree in front of you.

It's usually convenient to imagine that we are all discrete entities, solitaries who interact with other solitary beings. This, however, is a singularly narrow-minded worldview. Think about your own body. Are you your skin? Though this is our largest organ and perhaps the most apparent, I think we would all agree it is not what makes us who we are. Contemplate the long process of cell death and regeneration that governs your skin. At what point does a skin cell cease to be part of you? The lines that divide and define us are much fuzzier than we think. This same blurring of boundaries extends throughout our world. Think about those wonderful vegetables you eat. Eventually, that carrot you're munching on ceases to be a carrot and becomes part of your body. Where is that place of transformation, of everyday alchemy? It's liberating to realize that we don't necessarily have to function as lone islands, but instead can thrive as richly diverse and powerful network: an archipelago.

How badly we need to embrace this process today. How would our political theater look differently if the people running the show tried to step into each others' shoes and the shoes of their constituency? Would we even have the vast, inefficient, top-heavy government that's in place now? I doubt it. Because in the past we've been all too willing to put on blinders and ignore our sense of connectedness, we've manifested an inherently divisive and unfair society. But that doesn't have to be the case. Let's go outside, talk to our tree and our neighbors. To do so, we're all going to have to grow a lot closer.

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