Deep Listening



God’s call is mysterious;
it comes in the darkness of faith. 
It is so fine, so subtle,
that it is only with the deepest silence within us
that we can hear it.
Carlo Caretto

Listening can be understood as seeking guidance from a higher level of consciousness and understanding. By entering into a stillness that is holy—that contains wholeness—silence brings us into our own wholeness. We remember—and re-member—pulling together that which has been lost in the fragmentation and distraction of daily living. 

In this silence, from this stillpoint, is the only place where true choice can be made. Because we become quiet, we learn to hear the I AM at the heart of creation, and in our own hearts, so that we can choose from the center of our being instead of the periphery of outward circumstance. Then each choice is made with clear intention. We are inspired from within instead of reacting from what is happening without. Though outer circumstances change, this deep listening keeps us centered in a larger spiritual reality. 

As we grow into our ability to experience inner and outer silence, our interior lives become richer. We discover that the silence and the void we feared is actually a living presence. The “still small voice” is now the insistent pulse of the Life Force making itself known in us. 

If you have ever been in a place of awesome beauty—the ocean, a mountain top, a cascading waterfall, the edge of the Grand Canyon—you have tasted this presence. Silence like a great cathedral allows you to enter the mystery and beauty of your own inner presence. 

• Exercise: Take an extended walk in wild places. Let nature nurture you and savor a silence full of living creatures, wind and weather, and all the sounds that speak to the soul in a way that human-made sounds cannot.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau

A mystic is not a mysterious person, but is one who has a deep, inner sense of Life and of his unity with the Whole.
Ernest Holmes

The source of all abundance is not outside you. It is part of who you are. …The fullness of life is there at every step. The acknowledgement of that abundance that is all around you awakens the dormant abundance within. Then let it flow out.
Eckhart Tolle

The crust of the everyday must be broken through.
Eugene Delacroix

If you want to become full, let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn, let yourself die.
Tao Te Ching

Let us remain as empty as possible so that God can fill us up.
Mother Teresa

Prayer can be understood as the gathering of attention. The inner effort, which is the work of gathering and recollection, leads to peace within. When this peace has gathered sufficient strength it can face the world in a new way.
Kabir Edmund Helminski

The greatest security we can have, in the face of antagonism and the inner and outer complexities of life, is to be consciously connected with the unchanging sense of self at the core of our being.
John Maxwell Taylor

The boasted strength of the personal self is really its weakness; true strength lies in that which dwells behind the personal self. We may draw on the infinite, if we will, and thus achieve the seemingly impossible.
Paul Brunton

…that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on—
Until the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul; 
While with an eye made quiet by the power 
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
William Wordsworth

One instant is eternity,
eternity is the now.
When you see through this one instant, 
you see through the one who sees.

Your endeavor, then, is not so much to find God as it is to realize His presence and to understand that this presence is always with you.
Ernest Holmes

The secret of meditation is silence: no repetitions, no affirmations, no denials—just the acknowledgement of God’s allness, and then the deep, deep silence which announces God’s Presence.
Joel Goldsmith


The Wisdom of Silence

Spring Beauties

Spring Beauties

To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.
Lao Tzu

Silence enriches and changes us. Learning to be in silence on a regular basis brings a greater flow and ease to life. We access body wisdom as well as inner wisdom. We find rest, refreshment, and an expanded awareness that is more sensitive to life. We discover a new playfulness and childlike receptivity. We become more at home in the universe and in our own bodies. 

The time spent in silence spreads its influence beyond our practice of silence and stillness. The moments of silence radiate out into our days, gradually transforming our experiences of life. Drawing on the deep wisdom of the timeless and eternal, we discover that our daily round of errands, laundry, meetings, work, relationships, and social obligations begin to partake of the attributes of timelessness, peace, and even eternal bliss. The living listening presence that is at the core of who we really are as human beings becomes the center around which all the rest of life orbits.

• Exercise: Share silence intentionally with others. Setting aside silent time as a group is a powerful way to be together. Be silent with others consciously, setting aside an agreed upon time and place to be in quiet together. Enjoy a discussion afterward about how it felt and what you learned. Or leave in silence, connected to the energy of the group without needing words. 


Meditation as Medicine

To meditate does not mean to fight with a problem.
To meditate means to observe.
Your smile proves it.
It proves that you are being gentle with yourself,
that the sun of awareness is shining in you,
that you have control of your situation.
You are yourself,
and you have acquired some peace.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

It is our nature to harmonize with the natural rhythms of the universe, yet we have for the most part forgotten how to do this. In a world in crisis, it is vitally important to regain this lost art, and to attune our lives to the silent pulse that lies beneath all forms and manifestations. To develop a quality of listening presence in our lives, we must begin by stilling the disjointed judgments and chatter of our minds, calming our emotions so we are free to move from conventional thinking into our deeper, more intuitive perceptions. We can choose to move beyond the time-bound limitations of a stressed-out lifestyle to enter into the timeless and eternal. Meditation is one way to help us do this. 

Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls meditation medicine, and I find it is so with me. I may come to meditation thinking I'm fairly calm, but soon realize how much tension and inner pain I am carrying. I learn that my life has great potential be sweet and sane, if I recognize the sweetness and sanity in the present moment. I also see that I carry pain and fear, telling myself mental stories about past disappointments or future dread. Meditation is a safe place to stop, listen, and become fully present, teaching my monkey mind to let go of its chatter and settle into peace and awareness. Sitting in meditation acts like medicine, calming my mind, centering me in my body, placing me in the sacred abundance of the here and now. 

My time of meditation reminds me that becoming conscious doesn't necessarily change the conditions (at least at the beginning) but it can help me be more able to bless whatever comes, whether I consider it "good" or "bad." In meditation we let go of defining “good” or “bad” and simply observe what “is.” This is a radical acceptance that removes resistance to change, allowing a deeper perspective to emerge.

Sometimes change feels like a death, for it is always death to the small self/ego to be out of control and unable to predict what is going to happen. Yet if the larger life, the better self, is to be known and appreciated in my life, then I will sometimes feel as if I am less in control of the situation/person/my own reactions. Releasing judgment and control allows openness where I can receive the nourishment of the Presence of God, which teaches me that this moment, here and now, just as I am, is good. Doing this also helps me open to new possibilities, wider perspectives, and fresh ways of being one with life. 

Openness and receptivity create a space for something new to enter. You'd think I would embrace this. Instead I feel ambivalent. A time of mindful meditation helps me observe the ambivalence and remove myself from the judgments of good/bad. It creates space for even a small seed of insight, the merest seedling that breaks through into the sunlight of a passionate life. All that stillness and observing creates room in me for passion, awareness, awakening.

As I practice meditation, I feel less need for talking or explanations. I’m finding that I don’t want to talk away the energy that is working like yeast of transformation within. Change is happening, but not in any way that can be fully described to others. I’m tapping into a source of inner power I’ve only tasted before. I’m also consciously choosing to replace the fear thoughts with faith thoughts, sometimes calmly, sometimes in spite of the emotional turbulence as the old ego way attempts to gain ascendancy over me again.

Change that others can see is beginning to appear in subtle ways. I have had unexpected compliments from others that tell me I’m glowing like a woman in love, or have become beautiful as my energy has shifted. If I’m in love, it is with life lived from the quiet center of my being. If I have brighter and more beautiful energy, it is because I’m connecting to an inner power and peace. I used to think something “big” had to happen: a giant career leap, a thrilling romance, a sudden change of fortune. Now I’m learning that the silent pulse of a deeper change takes place before any dramatic outer changes occur. I sense that inner changes are preparing me, moving me into the expanded consciousness that makes all other change possible. 

I am quietly, peacefully surrendered right now, doing the hidden work that no eye can see. I’m no one special, no longer needing to be in front of people performing and proving how amazing and wonderful I am (or wish I was). Now I’m just being, watching the seasons breathe around me, feeling life stirring deep within, but not knowing how it will unfold. It is enough that I am in this place of peace, rooted in the inner Source. I sit on my meditation cushion, quietly allowing the medicine of mindfulness to work its mystery in me. 


People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

Your work really begins when you release the struggle.
To let go of struggle initiates a change of vibration within you.
This change puts you in touch with the flow of Life Itself,
which is essentially what you are. 
To cultivate your awareness of this flow is your real work.
— Swami Chetanananananda

There are unknown forces within nature; when we give ourselves wholly to her, without reserve, she leads them to us; she shows us those forms which our watching eyes do not see, which our intelligence does not understand or suspect.
— Auguste Rodin

The ancient Hebrews saw their beginnings moving ahead of them carrying them along, with their future following behind, also moving at the same time. One could in this sense feel both the past and the future actively part of one’s life and, in a state of intense meditation, unite all moments in one. For the person who could access it, the power of creation could be brought into the present.
— Neil Douglas-Klotz

There are beautiful and wild forces within us.
— Saint Francis of Assisi 

Listen, my children, with the ear of your heart.
— Saint Benedict

Absolute unmixed attention is prayer.
— Simone Weil

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
— Max Planck

To reach cosmic understanding, it is necessary to unite our feeling with that infinite feeling that penetrates everything.
— Rabindranath Tagore

The extraordinary thing is that the insight of the heart is the magic that unleashes talents and potentialities within people that have been blocked as a result of their suffering.
— Pir Vilayet Inayat Khan

All nature is alive, awake, and aware with the divine presence,
and everything in life responds to the song of the heart. 
— Ernest Holmes 

True spirituality is not religion—it is a state of being. 
— Mary Hession 

There is only one time when it is essential to awaken.
That time is now. 
— Buddha

Keep practicing, even when you seem to be getting nowhere.
— George Leonard

We must make choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.
—Thomas Merton

I see life in terms of transformation:
matter being transformed into life, life into consciousness,
consciousness into Divine Experience.
— Bede Griffiths

Drink your tea slowly and reverently,
as if it is the axis
on which the world earth revolves
slowly, evenly, without
rushing toward the future.
Live the actual moment.
Only this moment is life.
—Thich Nhat Hanh

Affirmative prayer

I am deeply connected with the Infinite Mind in this sacred moment. This Infinite Power is within me and I now choose to nurture the God-given gifts which wait like seeds within my heart. I dare to dream a larger dream for my life, because my dreams come from God. I have the power to create great abundance. I now claim that power, sense it growing and expanding within. I know that this power is the Life Force wishing to express itself through me. I welcome this living, loving energy into my life and know that I am being transformed in this moment. I choose to nurture this seed of faith within and to cultivate spiritual fruit in my life. Before I prayed, God has already answered, and I rejoice in the flow of energy, passion, goodness, and joy that overflows in my heart. I thank God for this clean, clear, fresh awareness. I now sense that being leads to doing, that presence and practice lead to effortless transformation. 

Sources of inspiration you might enjoy 

I began practicing regular group meditation at the Nashville Mindfulness Center late last year. It has become a lifeline during stressful and challenging days. The practice of meditation offers a way to integrate mindfulness with other spiritual practices and traditions. I find that meditating with an experienced leader and group is helping me go more deeply into practice than I could on my own. 

The Nashville Mindfulness Center] (NMC) is a Buddhist meditation center located in Nashville, Tennessee. Founded in March 2006 by ordained Tiếp Hiện (Order of Interbeing) member Skip Ewing, the NMC is dedicated to the practice of mindful meditation in the tradition of Zen master and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Thich Nhat Hanh.

One of the best known and most respected Zen masters in the world today, Thich Nhat Hanh (called Thây by his students) has led an extraordinary life. A Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a poet, a scholar, and a peace activist, his lifelong efforts to generate peace and reconciliation moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. His community of practice in France is usually referred to as the Plum Village Sangha. For more about the work of Thich Nhat Hanh visit the Plum Village website.

I also attend Nashville Center for Spiritual Living and have been taking classes there for many years. Though I have often called myself a Lutheteryfourpalian (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Four Square, Episcopalian) I now draw from the richness of many spiritual traditions, discovering a common thread in the kaleidoscope of images, cultures, and language of different faiths. I have not thrown the Christ Child out with the bathwater, but I have learned to see Christ in the faces of those whose beliefs differ from mine. NCSL offers a safe place to explore spiritual questions while honoring all paths to God.