1022: A mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.
1022: A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.
- Oliver Wendell Holme
In today's reflection, author and wise man Mark Nepo invites us to immerse ourselves in the deeper, fresher, eternal ways of listening that keep us alive. Let's find a rock or a flower or a mushroom and imagine its journey through space and time.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU REALLY LISTEN
A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.
OLIVER WENDELL HOLME
So much depends on whether we see everything we meet as alive or inert. When we meet things, looking for the life they hold, we tend to listen and receive.
How we move through the world depends on whether we view everything we meet as self-contained or as containing all of life. If I see a stone as merely an object in the way or as some weight I can use, I am drawn into a limited plane of living that is governed by problem solving: this piece fits here, this one does not, this piece will help me get over there, this one is in the way.
Being so strategic may shorten my to-do list, but it doesn't open me up. With no sense of how things are connected, I may move things along without ever being touched by life.
But if I can hold that stone with enough presence and attention to realize its journey over centuries, how it wasn't always solid, how its minerals coalesced, how it felt the thud and press of every horse, car, and road placed above it, I might feel a deeper connection to the Earth that might broaden my perspective beyond the confines of my individual life. One of the purposes of listening is to break our self-reference.
Each thing we encounter is alive—be it a stone, a dragonfly, a symphony, or a peach. And each thing in its aliveness encodes and mirrors the whole of life in its own way. When we can listen, each particle of being, no matter how small, invites our presence and attention, so we might hear and feel the Universe through it.
Despite our physical explanations, this is what enables us to hear the ocean when putting a shell to our ear or all of humanity when holding someone with a broken heart.
As the visionary William Blake wrote, "To see a world in a grain of sand . . . Hold infinity in the palm of your hand."
When relating to what we encounter, we become more possible ourselves; able to grow from what other things see and feel. But how does a stone see and feel? Well, that's the work of openness, isn't it?
To discover and inhabit many ways of listening, not just those we call human.
Time has made me accept that I can't possibly know or absorb the Oneness of things all by myself. In this way, listening becomes a partnership by which we listen and converse with everything.
And this conversation with everything—yes through words, but more through presence and attention—becomes the partnership by which we keep everything joined.
I invite you into this conversation that has been going on since matter first conversed with space. I invite you to immerse yourself—through words and beneath words—in the deeper, fresher, eternal ways of listening that keep us alive.
We are all excellent storytellers:
Think of a story from your own life of coming across a small part of life that, by giving it your attention, opened up a larger sense of life.