I recently found myself on a long run in a time of a lot of stress. The run ended up feeling like I imagine Native American teenagers felt as they searched to find their spirit animal. I know I hadn’t smoked anything but, at times I felt like I had.
My only goal in starting the run was to listen. I promised myself to simply listen to everything that came my way.
Amazingly enough, as soon as I left my house a little girl (in the middle of the day - I’m still not sure what she was doing out there alone) said “hello” to me. It was as though the world was saying “Welcome, Ryan”.
It was difficult at first. I wanted to think and solve and forecast the future so I could think and solve imaginary problems too. But then I kept saying “listen”. Listen to my feet, to birds, to cars, to my breathing.
I found myself running my some lions in cages. (We have a zoo called Cat Tales not far from my house. It’s filled with lions, tigers, and other felines.) I noticed that the animals were making noises as they pranced around their cages and I noticed that the humans in their houses were making similar noises across the street as they pounced around in their caged yards.
Where is all the promised freedom, I asked. I kept running and listening. Which I soon noticed I do a lot. I keep running. From whatever it is.
So, I stopped running and listened more intently. After every stop I found myself running with more energy and inspiration. Another lesson.
Then I realized I always run the same path. So I started running on different paths, on different roads, on hills. At one point I stopped at the top of a hill, listening for a while and raised my hands in the air as though I had just won a race. I was either crazy or symbolically expressing what stopping and listening is: it’s winning.
I don’t know how far I ran or how I long. I know I kept listening. Whenever stress came, I listened. I ran by some cows and they all yelled at me. Maybe they were simply saying hi or maybe they were saying hey, we feel you man. It’s good to listen and we hope you’re enjoying it. Life is better when you do.
By the time I came home, I was overwhelmed with silence. The overwhelming sense of stress and solving and planning and finding solutions and running was silenced by silence.
By just listening. Literally and metaphorically and spiritually.
It’s called noise pollution. It’s everywhere. Our machines alter environments not just visibly but audibly. Our noise, like the cars I heard, drastically affect animals and eco-systems. Our noise alone changes our world.
John Cage wrote the song 4’33” in 1952. During the first performance of the song David Tudor opens his piano and sits there for 30 seconds. He then closes the piano, opens it again and sits there for 2 minutes and 23 seconds. He then closes and opens again for a final 1 minute and 40 seconds. The song is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence.
Of course there are all kinds of jokes and ridicule about the “song” and its ridiculousness and absurdity.
Yves Klein showcased an art exhibit of blank walls at the Galerie Iris Clert in Paris in 1958. There was literally nothing there but blank white walls. The Pompideu in Paris recently duplicated the exhibit.
Again the laughs of art history professors everywhere. (I’m hearing by art history professor brother right now and I know this kind of stuff drives him crazy.)
But, let’s step back for a second.
Elizabeth Gilbert says 4 words profoundly changed her life: “shut the fuck up.” She realized that her parents were not asking her for all of her great advice on their marriage and that, unless they asked, she should simply remain silent.
Speaking wouldn’t change them anyway.
This epiphany extended far beyond her parents. Why do we insist on speaking to people who are not asking for our opinion?
Every time I go on Facebook now, I can’t help but think of that f in the logo as a giant symbol of shut the f up. Facebook is perhaps one of the greatest noise pollutants in our society (no offense Mark).
What kind of things would your hear and notice if you had to sit still for 4 minutes and 33 seconds?
What kind of things would you begin to think of if you entered into an empty room for a few moments?
Be quiet. Just listen. Listen to God, the Universe, the Divine, or whatever other name you want to put on the power that is rolling through it and you and everyone around you. Listen to it. Pay attention. Paying attention is prayer.
Listen to the Earth. To the birds, to water, to air rushing through your windows, to rain, to the leaves rustling and to the vastness of space.
Listen to others. They have amazing stories. They are invaluable as contributors to this planet, humanity, and your own story.
Listen to what they have to teach you. Even your biggest adversary. The one who disagrees with you the most. What do you learn about yourself when you stop and listen?
Harriet Lerner, via Brené Brown says, “Change requires listening with the same level of passion that we feel when we speak.”
Listen to yourself. The divine dwells in you. Your body is speaking. Your mind is speaking. Your soul is speaking if you just listen.
It’s a loud world. Find quiet and space to breathe, to contemplate and to just listen.
If continued evolution, growth, adaptation is our point, listening might be one of the most powerful things on Earth.