Listening and Courage

View of sunrise from our breakfast table this morning in Comox

View of sunrise from our breakfast table this morning in Comox

I thought I would carry on with the topic of Listening by discussing some of the conditions which I have found to be conducive. One such condition is that of courage.

The word, courage, comes from the French ceour, meaning heart. As the Chinese character for Listening shows (see Jan. 4th post), and in the way I am speaking of it here, Listening requires being centred in the heart. Though we may think of courage as involving will or force, it actually requires a softening and an opening of heart.

But courage means more than heart. When we need courage, we are likely to be experiencing fear because of some perceived danger. Rather than being a state without fear, courage is about being true to ourselves even in the face of fear. To Listen more expansively, an openheartedness in the face of fear is essential. But what is there to fear about Listening?

For one thing, when we Listen with our full presence, we are likely to feel, and the feeling may be uncomfortable or even painful. Sometimes what another is saying is difficult to hear. Many of my counselling students fear that they will not be able to handle some of the stories their clients tell them, which is understandable given that many clients’ histories are heartbreaking.As a therapist I have heard stories of abuse, violence, tragedy, and even torture, which individuals in my presence have experienced firsthand. In these situations I need to stay present and be witness. I breathe. I feel. I let my client know I am with them and listening and I check to make sure I am understanding what they are saying. I am not saying it is always easy.

I have not always been so courageous with my own family members as I have with my clients. For instance, I have recently come to realize it has been particularly difficult for me to Listen and let in feelings regarding a period in my late mother’s and my own life. It is only recently that I have really begun to assimilate my feelings about what her life was like for her at that time.

It can require courage to attend to unfinished business, memories and past experiences that are locked in the body and which keep our life flow blocked. It also takes courage to receive feedback, especially when it might challenge our own beliefs and concepts of ourselves. To hear a partner’s or our good friend’s difficulty with us might be especially hard to swallow and assimilate. There are unconscious parts of all of us, ‘shadow’ aspects as Jung called them, of which we are not only unaware but have at some point rejected, that would change our self awareness and even identity if we were to integrate and embrace them. Sometimes we become aware of these from the feedback of others, but we can make the effort to discover them ourselves if we are willing to Listen to ourselves. Dreams, especially, can be helpful in this regard.

That our self concept or world view might be too small or limited can make it difficult to Listen, and it can feel threatening to have it challenged. Receiving the reality of another that is different from our own might challenge us to change, whether the information is about us, the other, a political situation, or reality itself. Sometimes it even results in a period of instability and disorientation.

Of course Listening to our deepest inner voice, whether we conceive of this as our soul, the voice of God or an angel/guide, or just our higher self, can be particularly frightening, as this voice might ask something of us which we are not prepared for. We might be called to take a risk or follow a particular direction which our ego resists. If it is our deepest voice it will always be in our best interest, but the ego doesn’t care. It favours looking good and being in control.

The courage to Listen requires opening, which can be challenging for our ego. It is not only our heart that must open but also our mind. Rationalizing often serves as protection – Freud called rationalization an ego defence mechanism as it keeps us from fully experiencing. Of course, defence mechanisms can be healthy temporarily, especially when we are overwhelmed, but eventually experience needs to be assimilated.

I would not suggest we should be open to everything and not be discerning. A healthy bit of scepticism and caution is essential. But a nay-saying approach to life is deadening. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There is more to heaven and earth, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy.” Opening to the unknown, to what we do not understand and is beyond our control, takes courage. To consider the vastness, magnificence, and magic of Life can take our breath away. To actually receive Life and Listen can bring us to our knees.

The Breezes at Dawn (have secrets to tell you)

Sunrise from our breakfast table in Comox this morning

Sunrise from our breakfast table in Comox this morning

The eye of the needle is everywhere, abiding patiently for you to quilt your life to the Otherworld. Martin Shaw

If we would restore the wasteland our world is becoming, we must attune ourselves, re-tune our frequency, to the Pristine, Primal Land, the original template, and allow ourselves to become Living Bridges, through which the energy of regeneration and restoration can pass from that world to our own. Margie McCarthur

The above quotations are saying the same thing I think, though they use different metaphors to express how we may be connected to a deeper reality, an “Otherworld,” which has been given many names. I often conceptualize it according to Jung’s term, the collective unconscious. Or we can call it the secondary process as does Arnold Mindell, or the transpersonal field... Perhaps you have a name you prefer.

We can connect to this “Otherworld” through the portal of the heart more easily than we can enter through our rational thought process. In fact, the latter is pretty useless in this regard and even creates a wall. Our fast paced and materialistic culture also distracts and prevents us from perceiving the “original template,” the state of being in which we best thrive. We can learn to be “bridges” and to “quilt”/knit ourselves back to this level of experiencing - which brings me to my main point of this post – I want to explore this subject and experience through writing. And I am going to call the means to experiencing this greater perception, Listening.

There are different levels of Listening, of course – We might Listen to others, to our self, to God/the gods/angels, to the earth and nature, and so on. I wish to explore all, as essentially they require the same effort – becoming living tuning forks and receivers (in order to become “bridges”, sewing needles...)

I have been attempting to ‘practice what I preach’ and have been doing my best to Listen. As I mentioned, my friend Colleen inspired my two most recent posts when she sent me photographs of sculptures. This time it was my friend, Krista, who woke me up to the exciting possibility of continuing to write about the subject of Listening.

Krista wrote,

“Your post has made me think more deeply than ever about the underrated beauty of listening. It feels so good to do... It is so valuable for human connection. And we are lonelier than ever these days...

As Krista notes, on a very personal and human level, our relationships are suffering because of our undeveloped (and forgotten) Listening skills. Improving our Listening can help transform our relationships on all levels and with everyone and every thing.

Krista also wrote,

“I think one (you) could write a book to remind and teach this North American culture these elements that have been swept aside. It seems that it’s hard to remember tender qualities in a competitive culture, where people are encouraged to be loud and flashy and draw attention to themselves, almost like it is a means to survival. But if we are going to talk about survival we must wake up to the necessity of communion and selflessness and attending and mindfulness. More and more people are. (That’s where my hope comes in.)”

Yes, a transformation of how we attend is already occurring collectively as part of the evolution of human consciousness. And let me be clear, I am not saying I know all about the subject. But from having been a counsellor and a trainer of counsellors for many years, not to mention having been involved in my own work of personal transformation for even longer, I do have a lot to say about it. I also feel passionate about becoming a better attuner in my own life, and I feel inspired to dive in and learn as I write.

Krista (who is a writer, as you may have already guessed) concluded,

“It is as if we need to unearth it and dust off the skill...And the idea that listening is connected to climate change, listening to the earth, to the self...the link with empathy, the link with the incorporation of the feminine. Oh yes. The time is now.”

Dear Krista, I agree wholeheartedly!


Listening - Key to Staying Awake

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My friend Colleen has done it again.  She sent me another image that is perfect inspiration for my next post.  Not only do I feel seen and heard by Colleen – she is an excellent listener – but I sense she is deeply attuned to the process I am writing about, even if neither of us have a clear or rational sense of where it is going.  Colleen exemplifies the very phenomenon expressed in the image which she sent me.

Here we see the angel Gabriel craning to hear something which we assume is both quiet and important.  Look how he bends his wing, along with his hand, to funnel the sound, and how his face shows the most concentrated and caring attention.  This is the quality of listening we humans also need to develop. ‘Listening’ is key to remaining awake (the topic of my last post) and becoming who we are designed to be.

Listen.  How simple it sounds.  “But I do listen!” we say.  Yet true listening is an Art and we are called to become artists at listening.   

Listen.  The Chinese character for Listen, called Ting, is composed of symbols which represent not only the ears, but also the eyes, the heart, and the whole, undivided self.  In other words, listening is not just about hearing with our ears, though it may involve our ears.  Gabriel is listening with his whole, undivided self, and probably not just to outer sounds.  Gabriel’s listening, in this image, is to vibrations that are subtler than audible sound.  Gabriel is attuned to other frequencies.  And we would do well to be also.

As a counsellor, I listen to the words of my client, but as much and sometimes even more intently, I listen to what is not being said.  I listen to voice tone, body language (with my eyes), and to what is going on within me- such as feelings, as well as images and metaphors which suddenly appear in my mind.  I try to stay centred in my heart.

Recent research on the heart shows that the heart is a centre of intelligence, and according to many theorists, it far surpasses the brain, which is really more of a processor.  The heart is surrounded by a magnetic field which connects with other surrounding fields.  It has been shown that when we are centred in our hearts, not only are we able to receive information we would not otherwise detect, we have a healing affect on others.   

This level of listening is something everyone is capable of developing and it is not only other people to whom we can attune.  We can also develop our ability to listen to animals and even to plant life.  We also need to listen to our own hearts and souls for their deep wisdom and guidance.  And of course we need to listen to the “angels”, the voices of God/the gods.  

If the angels are listening to me with such undivided attention as Gabriel in this image, I want to do the same in return.   The quality of my life (and other life on the planet) may even depend upon it.

Marble sculpture - Angel by Ivan Mistrovic, 1918.

For more information on heart intelligence research, see Stephen Herrod Buhner’s Secret Teachings of Plants: the Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature. Publisher: Bear and Company, 2004.

See also www.heartmath.org

Will You Wake for Pity's Sake?

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It takes a thousand years to wake, But will you wake for pity's sake?
Christopher Fry

The image above of this extraordinary sculpture/carving was sent to me by my friend, Colleen. She knows me well enough to intuit that I would be taken by it, but maybe she didn’t know how much. To me, it expresses in an image what could take countless words to articulate.

At first glance it depicts three kings under a round/spiral rug with their heads sharing a pillow. An angel gently touches the hand of one while pointing to a star above. The eyes of the one being touched are wide open, while the other two kings continue to sleep.

While it might be appreciated as an image fitting for this time of year, referring as it does, to the three Wise Men or Magi who follow the star to Bethlehem, it is a scene which goes beyond the story of the three kings recorded in the New Testament. While I don’t know the exact intentions of the artist, I believe the sculpture has archetypal significance and speaks to the situation we all face in our lives and in the world.

Let me add that receiving this image was synchronistic for me. The previous evening I had been reading about the legend of King Arthur, the Once and Future King, and how he is said to be asleep in a cave until he is summoned in his country’s time of greatest need. This is known as the Great Awakening. Mara Freeman, who wrote the piece I was reading, included an old song with the words,

In the east the dawn is breaking, The land cries out in pain, Who among you will wake the Sleepers and let me live again?’

But as Mara Freeman points out, Arthur - and his knights (and their horses) who are also asleep in the cave - cannot awaken until we are awake. It is really we who are asleep. We are the ones who are dead to the world.

Occasionally one of us wakes, or are woken by a divine nudge. What might it mean to be fully awake and have eyes wide open like those of our king in the image? It suggests more than sliding out of bed in the morning and getting on with our day. It means rousing ourselves from our tendency to sleepwalk through life, buying into, without question, cultural assumptions and messages. It includes fighting off our addictions and the trances we are under, such as our endless compulsion to consume. It means shaking off our denial about climate change and the devastation of the natural world. It implies caring about more than our own personal interests, especially when they are at the expense of others.

But it means even more. The quality of presence that we see in the eyes of the king who is awake also relates to the star to which the angel points. The star represents our destiny. Richard Harries, in his description of this stunning piece, writes, “the guidance of God is rarely loud and overwhelming. It is usually the slightest touch, the nudge, the hint.” We can only realize our “star” if we pay attention – to the subtle nudges and soft pokes, the sensations, synchronicities, and whispers which are occurring all the time, in and around us. To follow the golden thread of our lives and become who we truly are, we must pay attention. For each of us to contribute what we uniquely have to offer, at this great age on our beloved planet, we must stay awake and listen.

The Breezes at Dawn have secrets to tell you Don’t go back to sleep!

Rumi

Image – Gislebertus Dream of the Magi Cathedral of Saint-Lazare, Autun, France. Description by Richard Harries, God’s Guidance, ArtWay.eu

The words of Christopher Fry and from the old song were included in a lesson from Mara Freeman’s Avalon Mystery School. See also her book, Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition, Destiny books, 2014.

The Alchemical Grail

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The grail is a complex symbol with numerous possible meanings. Some believe it to be an actual physical object that is hidden and may yet be found. Many Christians today believe it is and was the cup in which Joseph of Arimathea carried Christ’s blood. But it is a much older symbol than the time of Jesus (which does not negate the significance of the Christian symbol.)

Some see the grail as symbolic of the repressed feminine in the patriarchal culture which needs to be reclaimed or rediscovered before harmony can be restored and the healing of our world can occur. Certainly the early grail stories developed around the time when there was a shift away from goddess worship toward a more masculine based spirituality.

The grail is also a symbol for the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage of masculine and feminine principles. This wedding occurs on a cultural level. Out of the marriage a new reality is birthed. This also occurs on a personal level. Through our own participation in the process of inner transformation, an inner marriage occurs from which a ‘divine child’ is born. This child is our true and whole self which on one level already exists. As the grail legend tells us, the grail is with us all along. It is here now, in this very moment. We only have to become conscious of this, which is different from knowing it intellectually.

Spiritual alchemy is a parallel process to that of the quest for the grail. In alchemy, the ultimate goal was not gold, as is usually believed, but what is called the philosopher’s stone or lapis philosorum. In one well known version of the grail story, and likely in earliest tellings of it, the grail was a stone. In spiritual alchemy, this represents an inner state of being rather than an outer object. When we approach the grail myth and alchemy psychologically and spiritually, we are knight, grail, alchemist and stone.

We may deliberately undertake a Great Work of achieving the ultimate goal in life which is essentially becoming one with the divine, symbolized by grail and philosopher’s stone. Other terms include Christ consciousness and Buddha consciousness. There are many paths.

But what I wish to explore here is not only a path but a way of transformation. It is the grail myth as much from the perspective of the grail as the seeker, and alchemy as much from the perspective of the stone as the alchemist. It is the way of the sacred marriage but it is grounded in the feminine, in the earth, nature, and our own bodies. The essential maps and recipes are already within us. Our own nature is the Way. By following our own inner blueprint, we realize who and what we really are and we embody our ultimate destiny.