Silence, Discernment & the Art of Listening III

By Stu Whitley

This is the third post in a three-part series.

the 18th century, Sir William Herschel became the first man to discover
a planet, Uranus, and six years later, he found two moons to that
frozen, unimaginable world. His sister was an eminent astronomer as
well, discovering three nebulae and eight comets. His son John, born
into a family steeped in brilliance, wrote Treatise on Astronomy in
1833, in which he, like all visionaries, looked to the heavens to
illustrate the central point in his work: he warned against
misinterpretation and what he called ‘vulgar errors’ arising from
imperfect or habitual apprehension. His instruction to men of reason
was to try and listen, to see, and to understand the gigantic truths behind the reduced forms of mundane existence, in the same way as a sailor knows but cannot immediately measure the frozen immensity under the iceberg’s cap.

Herschel said that a person who would seek to properly understand
should “loosen his hold on all rude and hastily adopted notions, and
must strengthen himself…for the unprejudiced admission of any
conclusion which shall appear to be supported by careful observation
and logical argument, even if it should move of such a nature adverse
to notions he may have previously formed for himself, or taken up,
without examination, on the credit of others [emphasis added]…we must
purge our sight before we can receive and contemplate, as they one the
lineaments of truth and nature.”

He might just as well have said to keep an open mind.

Be aware when you are acting on the basis of preconceived notions.

Listen carefully.

knowledge, or as reasonably complete as human capacity exists to reach
it, brings satisfaction, delight. This is a truth that is sometimes
forgotten, even though we know that partial knowledge (wrought by the
absence of discipline, of rigour, of empathy) generally brings misery
and an unhappy result.

At end of our days, I believe the most
important achievements we will realize in our lives will be found in
the relationships we have experienced, and the ways in which we have
contributed to the lives of others. Something as potentially
stultifying as the performance assessment process in the workplace was,
nevertheless, intended to be a mutual, reinforcing and, ultimately,
uplifting experience that moulds a better team and advances the
personal development of those involved, as any serious communication

We seldom think of what good communications should not
be: unilateral, top-down, judgmental. What is most valuable about these
interactions is the opportunity to inquire into the nature of our
commitments and the way we have diligently pursued them (or not). That
revelation cannot happen without properly listening to others—and to

my window’s open, and the night’s song enters on a cool draft
or is it laughter from a telephone line stretched tightly to where you are?
my feelings have moved from muddied waters to cloud-capped peaks
discoveries in our internal landscapes go uncomprehended
and too often we miss the cues that trick the genius of the heart—
which is simply the alchemy of turning possibilities into truths

the need to know, to listen carefully, to perfect oneself,
the need not to live in vain, to love
is what profoundly moves us, of this I’m sure, but—

I’m battered by the recurring lesson that my understanding of basic things
must incessantly die and be born again
the lawyer’s life insists otherwise, demanding certainty and rules, finality
but too often our motives, our actions, our feelings are obscure
and to allow that permits a protective balm whose purpose is
to ease the pain of vulnerability, protect our uncovered hearts

if one is vague about what one says, then how can one be faulted?
but you have shown the courage of speaking clearly
For there is no need for hedging bets or taking the safe path with us
which is why I need to be clear when I speak to you—
even if I don’t always fully understand what happens to me in this  life
which is why I tell you, insistently, that I love you
can I be any clearer?

© 2007 Stuart James Whitley. All rights reserved.