To Listen (and really Hear)

A few days ago, I spoke about how (as we age) we become more appreciative of our five senses.   Although the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch are — in each their own way — unique and valuable, one stands out above the rest :  Hearing.  

Now, I am not speaking literally (i.e. hearing a sound). If I were being literal, I would give first priority to the physical ability to see.

But, I am speaking metaphysically.  

I am keenly fascinated by Taoist philosophy. Taoism (modernly referred to as Daoism, which is a more accurate English pronunciation of the Chinese word) is an ancient Chinese philosophy and religion whose core belief centers upon the Tao (also referred to as Dao).  Tao means the Way (or Path) … the underlying law of the universe.  Tao is not God, nor is it worshipped.  It is a religious philosophy of  unity and opposites:  Yin and Yang — where the universe is composed of complementary opposites like  dark and light, hot and cold, action and inaction, feminine and masculine.  Harmony or unity with nature, self-development,  the pursuit of spiritual immortality, and living a virtuous (humbly so) life — these are  the basic tenets of Taoism.

The theory of Yin and Yang is also central to all Oriental health practices. And, the root of all health is Ch’i.  In his book “The Book of Ch’i: Harnessing the Healing Force of Energy,” author Paul Wildish writes:

“Ch’i is “breath,” it is the air that we breathe and at the same moment the energy and vitality that sustain us.  Everything we see, or touch, or experience is composed of ch’i and is merely an arrangement of this energy into recognizable form.  It is a concept comparable to the explanation of quantum physics for the structure of atoms and molecules as accumulations of energy organized into distinct patterns.  Our whole existence is determined by this energy.  All facets of human life, our physical health, mental alertness, and emotional stability are conditioned by the levels and the relative flow of ch’i in and around our bodies.  Summoning, conserving, and using ch’i therefore is vital to maintaining a happy and healthy life  …. Ch’i operates through the bipolar dynamic of yin and yang, in a constant process of transmutation.  When we breathe in it is yin and when we breathe out it is yang … Good health is founded on establishing a natural cyclic equilibrium of these two forces.”

So, now you understand where I’m coming from when I say that “I am speaking metaphysically.”  I view the importance of the senses (notably the sense of “hearing”) as harmonizing with nature and thus contributing to our quest for self-development.

The 6th century Chinese philosopher (also known as the Father of Taoism) Lao Tzu (“Old Sage”) best articulates what I am trying to say about the importance of listening (and really hearing):

“It is hard to hear anything when you are doing the talking. Appreciate the value of silence, listen to the world around you and gain understanding from the insights it offers. “

In my reality, as perhaps in yours as well, this may mean listening to someone (be it friend, family or even a stranger) who needs a sounding board, a compassionate ear.  Or, it may be someone who wants you to go beyond listening, to really hear what he is trying to say (although he is not speaking).  In this case, you have to hear what his silence is telling you.  And then, understand.

Aye, there’s the rub.

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