One of the great contradictions of our world is speech. I'm not talking about words, or language. I'm talking... about talking.
Consider the parents of a toddler. Think of how overjoyed they are when little Johnny or Suzie says "Mama" or "Dada" for the first time.Their little one is beginning to grow up; learning to walk, and to talk: the first steps, if you'll pardon the pun.
...but then what happens? "Mama" or "Dada" turns into "Why, Mommy? Why, Mommy? Why, Mommy?" or, worse, "NO!" or "MINE!"
Suddenly, Proud Mother and Proud Father want nothing more than for the little brat to shut the hell up.
Cat Stevens put it very well: "...from the moment I could talk, I've been ordered to listen..."
So how do we balance this? How do we teach a child that it's important to know WHEN to speak, WHAT to say, without teaching them that their thoughts and feelings are less important than those of others, particularly the adults in the world?
This isn't about parenting, I promise; teaching kids to talk is just a great place to jump off. I'll get there, I promise. Stick around.
Ok, so you've got this snot-nosed rug-rat who won't shut up, won't listen, whines, cries, makes demands, and you're ready to snap. What do you do? The answer might surprise you.
We teach our kids (and, sometimes, ourselves) to speak, to read, to write; we establish the cognitive process, we learn deduction, induction, the list goes on and on... but we're never taught how to listen. How to Be Quiet and Hear.
Everytime I see some bratmonster in a Target or a Wal-Mart, howling like the damned because they can't have the cookies they want... I look immediately to the parents. It's troubling, how often said parent is on their cell phone, oblivious, or perusing some merchandise that interests them, while completely ignoring their child.
Where do children learn that the way to be heard is to be LOUD? From their parents, of course, and their teachers, and every other adult in their world who acts as though a child is somehow less of a person.
Why do we treat kids like that? Why, because we were treated like that, too, as kids, so that must be the way things are supposed to be, right?
So let's pull the focus back a bit, and give the parents and teachers a break, for a bit.
Listening is a skill, and there's a lot more to it than one might immediately realize. Quiet is the obvious first step... but what does it mean to be Quiet? It's a great deal more than just not talking. Stop talking, and, if everyone nearby cooperates, what you have is silence, which isn't the same at all.
In order to achieve Quiet, there are some other things that have to be done, and not a one of them is easy or comfortable, at least not if you're unused to them.
Once your mouth is closed, and your ears are open, you must then turn your attention to your Mind. I don't know about you, but even when my voice is silent, my mind goes a thousand miles an hour, putting together and taking apart lines of thought, interpreting and classifying information as I receive it, and forming opinions on things, making judgements. What I'm not doing, not to any significant extent, is listening.
"Turning off your brain" is one of the hardest things you can ask a human being to do. We have become so pointlessly and helplessly dependent on "thinking about" things that we've all but lost the ability to just let things Be. My Very Wise Friend talks about A+B=C; while A and B may very well combine to make C, why does that part matter? Of course, there are circumstances when it is important... but far more often, it's really not relevant. C can just be C, without having to analyze and disassemble the process of how it got there. The apple will be no sweeter, no crunchier, just because you understand all the complexities of the seed to tree to fruit mechanic. An intimate knowledge of photosynthesis will in no way improve your experience of the apple. If you focus, on the other hand, on the experience... why, you might learn something. WHAT you might learn, or HOW, is not for me to say; the simple fact is that by simply listening to what's happening around you, you learn things... and in order to listen, you have to be Quiet.
How, then? How do we stop "thinking," stop "analyzing," and just let things Be what they Are? There are no easy answers. Meditation works for some; ritual works for others. Every deeply spiritual path has some mechanic for it; at their roots, I think, they're very likely all very similar. The most important thing, though, from where I stand, is being aware of the need to slow down, relax, and be Quiet. The never ending need to know is really just another form of Greed, just another way that we grasp and reach and try to "possess" the world (and it is, in fact, one of the ways in which I personally am most guilty of greed, something that pains me immensely), but if we see it for what it is (Just letting C be C, remember), the process of relaxing, letting go of our attachment to things being a certain way, because less painful and more natural. In short, Quiet comes more easily.