When we listen deeply, what can we hear?

It seems to me that Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates the revelation of Torah at Mt Sinai, is an extraordinary opportunity for us to explore listening as part of building our capacity to hear God’s voice. For some, that might not be such an intuitive suggestion. Even if we “believe in” God, which not everyone does, the idea of hearing God’s voice seems archaic. But it invites intriguing questions or thought experiments: How would we know what God’s voice sounds like? What would it say if we could hear it? How would we know that is the voice of Divinity? What practices might help us cultivate more attuned ears?

I have always admired, and committed myself to develop, the ability to listen more deeply, to bring my full empathetic presence to the person speaking. I know that when others do that for me, it helps me to hear my own truth with greater honesty and insight and to explore more deeply than I might have otherwise. When I am listened to in this way, I feel seen and held. In this noisy world filled with bombast and interruptions, that attentive listening can feel like a gift of cool water on a hot day.

Recently, I’ve noticed the emergence of another experience of listening. This listening seems to emanate from a very calm, still point at the solar plexus that moves out and creates a kind of contained spaciousness. When I listen from this place, I notice my emotions are less engaged, not because I have become cold and callous but rather because I am more able to get out of the way for the sake of the person I am listening to. This kind of listening feels very clean and holy to me; it is one I want to continue to cultivate.

One additional suggestion for exploring how to listen in a new way is one I learned from Norman Fischer. He gave a meditation instruction that began with listening to the ambient sounds, whatever they may be: birdsong, traffic, voices, music. Then, he taught, shift your attention and start listening instead for the silence (or perhaps Silence) from which all sound arises and to which it returns. What might you hear?

Maybe this Shavuot we can practice listening more deeply, respectfully, lovingly to the people around us. Maybe we can practice listening to the sounds of the world. And maybe we might hear a Divine voice. May whatever we hear bring blessing.

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