Tuning In to Life

The Art of Listening

On October 18th Dr. Susan Eirich and members of the Earthfire Community joined for a special online video discussion on a topic at the heart of Earthfire’s mission: the art of listening.

Hearing is something we do involuntarily, but listening requires that we bring our complete attention to the subject at hand: ourselves, another being, Nature, all Life. To learn to speak the language of Life, we must first learn the ways that Life speaks to us. When we learn to listen deeply, we can begin to include the voices of all living beings in our considerations about how we live.

Reflection by Susan Eirich, PhD

“Listening connects us. It opens a channel through which information can pass on a beam of respect and caring. And then, ultimately, love.”
– Susan B. Eirich

“I used to know a man who could walk by any cornfield and hear the corn singing. ‘Teach me,’ I’d say. He’d say, ‘It takes a lot of practice. You can’t be in a hurry…. Do this: go get to know one thing as well as you can. It should be something small. Don’t start with a mountain. Start with one seed pod or one dry weed or one handful of dirt. You have to respect that tree or hill or whatever it is you are with…. Take the horned toad for example. If you think you are better than a horned toad you’ll never hear its voice.… Don’t be ashamed to learn from bugs or sand or anything…’”
– From The Other Way to Listen.

Our October conservation conversation was on the Art of Listening. It is a huge topic and so very important. One that we could all discuss for a very long time and it would only get richer and richer.   

There are many ways and levels of listening; from the mystical to the scientific; from the obvious to the extraordinarily subtle. In psychology, my own field, there is something called “listening with the third ear.” You “feel-hear.” It is very powerful and life-affirming for both people involved. In some forms of meditation you listen to the body and it communicates many astonishing kinds of information. In nature-practice you listen to a tree or an animal. If we truly listened – to each other; to beings in nature, things would be very different and we would all be much happier. We all want to be heard. It calms us. I think this is true for all living beings. I think we bloom in our own way when we are heard.

But it requires time and being quiet inside. This is hard in current times, especially without support because things are so noisy and rushed all around us. We have to help one another. That is a major wish I have for these conversations. That we do so. The thing is, we have to slow down first, before we speed up, and we don’t do that much in these times. That leads to faulty, ungrounded approaches, opinions and actions – in all fields in fact, but here I am focusing on our Earth and its living beings and systems. To remind herself of this, Gitte, one of our conversation participants, brought a little piece of paper with her to the Conversation: the Chinese sign for “listen.” It is one sign made up of five: ear, you, eyes, undivided attention, and heart.

The incredible bio-acoustics ecologist Bernie Krause, who has spent a lifetime traveling the world recording natural sounds, has come to an understanding of listening from the scientific method of accessing information. He believes that in time, “we will likely confirm that every living organism generates an acoustic signature and that each unique output signal, individually and as part of a collective expression has inherent meaning” (Voices of the Wild).

He added that engaging with the sounds of nature helps quiet the brain. So does deep conversation; sitting in quiet meditation, or just in silent companionship together. There are many other ways to help quiet us that are worth exploring in future conversations.

To learn to listen takes practice. It is hard to maintain a practice, of any sort. How can we support this? We suggested in the conversation that each one of us take 5 minutes, 1-3 times a day just to listen, feel the impact on us, and then share their experience in our next conversation. But let’s explore how else we might help each other as well.

The Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh was asked what we need to do to save our world. “What we most need to do,” he replied, “is to hear within us the sound of the Earth crying.”

The Earth is crying to be heard on many levels. And so are we.

Picture of Susan B. Eirich, Ph.D.

Susan B. Eirich, Ph.D.

Susan B. Eirich, PhD, is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.

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