Candles

211215_105067042918278_7462179_n

What happens when a candle goes out?
Was it blown,
snuffed, simply
forgotten?
Did anyone see the guttering,
stuttering in flame?
Who’s to blame when a blaze,
extinguished (perhaps
in anguish),
disappears?

Couldn’t you hear the loneliness
dancing in outline upon your wall?
Cries that fall in silent wails,
heard askance…

Or were you busy
just then?

Did the light ever shine
if all are blind?
Tree to forest; the poorest eyesight
lives in mirrors warped and twisted…

we all missed it

Listen

396280_10100316678480673_951323144_n

You must perceive world sound. You must perceive the sound of your voice. 

– Seung Sahn

Meditation, I think, is different for everyone who does it. It’s one of those things that suffer under too many rules, over-definition, because at its heart, it involves just…being.

For me, meditation is about listening. To everything. Being still and listening, being quiet and listening, being and listening.

The world speaks with many, many voices:

Bird choruses, high above, rebounding from one end of awareness to the other, species after species calling out in natural harmony–from the throaty shrill of the grackle to the metallic chirp of the cardinal. It is fauna gone stereo; it is everywhere at once.

The crescendoed buzzing of a mosquito in my ear. It is after me, but it is after me because it is alive, and I share with it in that life. We are, literally, blood brothers.

The insistent rapping of a red-headed woodpecker at the top of a nearby telephone pole: knock, and the worm shall be offered up to you.

Whispers of wind chasing one another around my head, and the feathery rustle of leaves sashaying in its wake. Memories ride on the breeze, tossing me back through time and space to the family farm and another breeze, identical yet different. I am reminded that all space and all time is hopelessly and inextricably interrelated; miles away, a world away, someone else listens with me, before me, after me, to the same different wind as I.

Suddenly, I’m hearing sounds that aren’t even there, sounds that I’ve heard before but long ago left behind: Vance Woods, this is your life!

The special crunch of gravel beneath my feet, sounding as it did only on that road, in that place, lost in the past, alive in the present. Voices of loved ones, some stilled by distance, others in death. The ricochet of bike tires off ramshackle cobbled streets: sounds today, aches and pains tomorrow. The past is the present writ large, and it too speaks in a multitude of dialects. Me llamo Eduardo–repeated over and over in decreasingly hesitant tones, back at the beginning of my adventure, back when I had just started to become.

Then, I begin to listen beyond, behind, underneath, and through. I begin to hear the pulse of existence, breathing, beating, just beyond the threshold of sound: the perpetual motion of being. Inhalation, exhalation. Life.

The world speaks, and I speak with it. It speaks to me, in me, and through me, in tones I often do not recognize, but, oh, when I do…Imagine my surprise!

What’s the old saying? I love listening to the sound of my own voice?

Here, at the heart of the world, the two, my own individual voice and the voice of the whole, are one and the same.

Two (or More) To Tango – Revised Ed.

Agnolo_degli_Erri_,_Dominicain_prêchant

I thought I heard the captain’s voice
It’s hard to listen while you preach
Like every broken wave on the shore
This is as far as I could reach

– U2

Listening is the hardest thing we will never learn to do.

Why? Because we take ourselves far too seriously. We give too much weight to the things we have to say. We assume our contributions to be greater than they really are.

Take this very blog, for instance: I would like to think that, from time to time, I say something someone might find encouraging or useful. But in and of itself, my little corner of the blogosphere really isn’t that important. To me, the Toad’s adventures may be truly great, but to others–to quote Randy Jackson–they may be “just alright.” Especially if I ignore everybody else’s.

Blogs are an excellent example of the fact that we’re far more willing to be heard than we ever are to listen. Case in point: Do we “follow” others because we really want to know what they have to say, or are we merely fishing for followers of our own? Mea culpa. If I’m honest, I’d have to say that even fifty-fifty is an estimate hopelessly lacking in self-awareness. I find myself “following” a couple hundred people, and paying attention to maybe a third of them. So I “purge the list” and heave a sigh of relief, only to find myself three months later back in the same over-crowded boat.

What I’m saying is this: I have 950 followers. To think that means I have 950 readers is just absurd. How do I know this? Because truth be told, I ignore most of the people I supposedly “follow.” There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Each of my however many followers each follow however many people, and will have just as hard a time keeping up with me as I with them. Bilbo Baggins said it best: “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” And for this I sincerely apologize.

The truth is, I would rather have a small group of dedicated readers, of whom I could be a dedicated follower and with whom I could have a meaningful conversation, than a neverending list of faceless, unidentified “followers” and “follow-ees” with whom I never ever interact. This is do-able. There are enough hours in the day for that, easily. As long as I remember why I ought to be here.

At the end of the day, though, I find I don’t always want a conversation. I often just want to hear myself talk. And then I wonder why no one’s responding to questions I’ve never bothered to ask. Even now, see? Here I am, preaching again. No matter how hard I try, the sermon must go on.

Here’s the problem: by definition, we are pushers of what we believe in, simply because we believe in it. There is nothing wrong with that, and there’s really no way around it. But there is a very fine line between arguing that what we believe is right, and arguing that unless our interlocutors accept the rightness of what we believe, they are wrong. Once we cross that line, dialogue is dead. We’ve decided we know, which is a dangerous decision to make. More importantly, we’ve decided we cannot know more, which means we’ve decided there’s nothing more we can be taught.

If that day comes, we might as well pack it in and head for home. If, as the soldiers of GI Joe used to say, knowing is half the battle, then learning is the other. If I refuse to do that, then I’m fighting with one hand tied perpetually behind my back. And I can’t learn unless I listen.

And sometimes it seems I’ll never learn.