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Shobo-genzo Zuimonki, Zen Master Dogen says that we should live each day, each hour, in the same frame of mind as that of a man falling from a horse. In that brief moment before he hits the ground, all his ability and learning [are] useless, and there is no time to think, no time for daydreams or self-reproach. When we face a matter of life and death, there is no time to look around or fantasize. All depends on our readiness. Zen Master Dogen said that we should live our whole lives in a state of readiness.

— Shundo Aoyama Roshi, Zen Seeds (Shambhala, 2019), 54–55.

“We’re in a freefall into future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is… joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.” ~ Joseph Campbell

A poet doesn’t invent. He listens. — Jean Cocteau

It’s time to wake up and pay attention. It’s time to listen. There are messages we’re not getting, coming from nature and deep inside ourselves. Our busy minds can’t hear much more than the repetitive cacophonies of our conditioning. You have to be intensely alive to really listen.

Listening is what the arts teach. That’s why creating art is close to meditation. It’s a spiritual practice. But we live in a positive-minded culture. We prefer to be busy because we think non doing is somehow shameful. Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.

The receptiveness and listening required to see ourselves living life seems too passive. We have been taught to focus on the externals.

Something happens though, when we begin to really listen. A world opens up. Life becomes real. Existence looks different when it drops the costumes we have dressed it in. There is a power and beauty there we hadn’t noticed, because we were telling ourselves a story about it.

I’ve taken many falls in my life. I’ve noticed that how I view one of my failures affects whether I can use it productively or not. My last debacle, losing our home in France and then investing what little money I had left in a failing business was a shock and a lesson at the same time. It was difficult to see the positives in it for a long time. I kept trying to, but until recently it was impossible.

I do notice though, that once I began to see the advantages in the experience, I started to feel freer of a self constructed mental trap. I began to see how my purview expanded and how I became creative in a different way.

Campbell’s point about changing the story about our life is interesting. After all, who’s to say we don’t have a hidden will in us that orchestrates our failures and catastrophes? It’s easier to see this on an individual than a global level. Here we are though, living out a worldwide stumble.

Is this what we intended? Maybe it’s exactly what we need, so we can finally stop and listen to our own hearts, to the cries of nature, to the groans of pain in our own world.

Only if we learn to listen will we finally notice the beauty of the web of life we inhabit. Listening is intelligence in action. Accepting ready made interpretations is the opposite of listening. Creating anything, much less a new, more just world, involves listening. Once we humans learn to listen, we’ll be able to see where the real values lie.

Right now we give value to a way of life that is painful and destructive, a way of life that doesn’t deserve such respect. Perhaps we are falling into a future where our stories about ourselves are built on really listening to everything inner and outer. If so, the future we create will be a better future for all of us instead just the insulated and privileged.

There has never been a better time to learn to sit down and listen.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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