Silence, Discernment & the Art of Listening

By Stu Whitley

This post is the first in a thee-part series.

at a conference, recently, the dais groaned
under the ponderous weight of self-important men
in bow ties and eyeglasses secured with small chains
holding forth in florid phrase and vexing verbosity
demonstrating the gulf between the idea and its imparting

row on row of upturned faces, seeking wheat among the chaff
sorting the useful from the meretricious
pursuing truth, or at least its cousin, knowledge
but this function depends, it seems to me, upon discernment
the capacity to know what is essential
in any given instance or competing circumstances

their voices fade; my mind has wandered to where you are
as always, all things come back to my beloved woman
and much of what engages my time, presently,
groans upon the dais of my existence
for I have discerned the truth; what is important
which more and more seems central to my life:
I am listening to the only song that matters
it is simply that, I am loving you

any good senior bureaucrat must do these days I am required to conduct
Performance Reviews and complete ‘appraisal reports’ of employees for
whom I am responsible. Time and again I am reminded how important it is
to listen carefully. Not only to those whose efforts we are considering
over the past year (as well as those in turn whose responsibility it is
to assess our work against the standards we have agreed to), but also
to ourselves. It is a reciprocal, introspective process that ought to
be characterized by attentiveness and absorption. Time doesn’t always
permit it.

The older we get, I think, the more clearly we see how important it is to be patient in our listening.

I read something a little while ago by Jose Kusugak, President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, in Nunavut. He was writing about a childhood Inuit game called Aaqsiiq,
the ‘silence game’. What a wonderfully simple but elegant concept:
removing one’s voice from one’s surroundings, enabling one to
comprehend what ambient sounds can tell us. It was something Inuit
children did, not only to amuse themselves, but also because their
parents needed them to learn the art of listening. Their survival
sometimes depended upon it. Sounds of the land, which a city dweller
might dismiss as ‘silence’, could tell volumes about the world around

Getting oneself in tune with the mysterious rhythms of
the natural world remains essential in Inuit culture; however, this
basic capacity to listen underlies all communication. In fact, listening is far more important to understanding than talking.
As the Inuit person matures, he or she additionally comprehends the
importance of listening to the inner self. Failure to heed the
whispering of the body—that something is amiss, or not quite right—can
result in important messages being lost. These include whispers of the
heart and spirit, which are those intuitions that relate to people and
concerns, especially those we care about most. I’m convinced that
failing to heed our inner silences can make us seriously ill. I’m
equally convinced that, with experience and the passing of time, we
become better able to hearken to such important cues.

© 2007 Stuart James Whitley. All rights reserved.

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