August 10, 2014

The Sounds We Cannot Hear: Three Steps to the Moment of Wonder. ~ Jean Gendreau

Mitya Ku/Flickr

“Lice rice. Luck ruck. Lewd rude.”

My normally polite ESL students are glaring at me.

An Asian man raises his hand.

“Excuse me, teacher. I am very sorry but….” He finally meets my gaze. “But I think you are making fun. These letters ‘r’ and ‘l’ do not make two sounds at all. They make only one.”

Now step into another language lab.

We Americans sit in headphones, scowling. We lean forward, straining to hear the Hindi sounds. But we hear absolutely no difference between ‘j’ and ‘jh’ and between front-articulated ‘t’ and back-articulated ‘t’. We cannot hear Hindi’s most basic sounds, even though the Devanagari alphabet charts them perfectly. It takes months of humble listening before we start to hear even the faintest hint of a difference.

I think I hear well, but I do not. Once I realize this, my paradigm must shift. Reality is not what I thought. I think I sense it accurately, but I do not. The sounds we do not hear, the realities we fail to sense, are the most basic truths of experience.

What other sounds do I fail to hear? Often I am tempted to think I know a lot. After all, I’m sensitive, aware and experienced.

I set a goal—a goal I think is wise, loving and kind. I visualize it in my mind; I tell myself how very good it will feel when it comes to pass. But just as I can only hear the sounds I already know, the only goals I can possibly invent are shaped by my thoughts, my ego and my past.

Even though my intentions are kind, my ego and my habits of thinking bind me like chains.

Cause and effect swirl far beyond my feeble imagination. I apply for the perfect job and feel shattered when I get the rejection. Five years later, I see what that job really entailed and I thank God for the rejection.

My son is born deaf and I pray for the miracle surgery that will give him hearing. It never comes. Fifteen years later his deafness means he cannot be drafted and sent to war.

C. S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, offers a perfect teaching in The Magician’s Nephew. The hero, Digory (who later becomes the Professor), wants more than anything to cure his mother’s cancer. An apple from the tree of life will heal all illness. The great lion, Aslan, sends Digory to find the tree and bring him the apple. But Digory is tempted. He thinks of stealing the apple for his mother. His intention—to cure his mother—is good.

Would it matter so much if he stole an apple?

Here is Aslan’s answer: “Understand then, that it would have healed her; but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness.”

At this, tears choke Digory, and he gives up all hope of saving his mother’s life. But then Aslan says, “This is what would have happened, child, with a stolen apple. It is not what will happen now. What I give you now brings joy.” And he gives Digory another apple, and that apple heals his mother.

The lesson is not about any outcome. The lesson is abandoning all outcomes and instead trusting sounds we absolutely cannot hear.

We must believe.

We must trust the silence.

If we can relax into this instant, rest in the now, with no plans or goals, only then can unlimited possibility manifest.

As we mature, we learn despair and disappointment perfectly. We get used to greed, betrayal, corruption, weakness, illness and death. We often think it’s smart to lower expectations. We try to create practical, doable solutions.

The burden of being realistic shoves us to our knees. After all, we don’t want to be fools.

This is the fork in the road, as in Frost’s poem. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

We must choose to be fools. When we meditate, we examine our experience and sensations closely. Words trap us; somehow we have to step beyond what words can express. Thoughts cripple us; somehow we have to step beyond our endless parade of ego-driven ideas.

In Buddhist scripture, the Heart Sutra says this: “…in emptiness there is no form, no sensation, no formation, and no consciousness.”

This is when God touches me. Wonder overwhelms me. I’m kneeling in the woods, and suddenly I realize that fairies might be real. This is my faith. I have no idea what is possible. I accept that I know nothing at all.

And so I step off the cliff into not knowing. I start to fall, trusting that the updraft is something I cannot even conceive of, and that is okay. In fact I welcome it. This is when I start to hear the heartbeat of the divine.

It is the awareness, the possibility that has no boundaries.

There are three steps:

First, we realize that there are wondrous, immense sounds that we cannot hear.

Second, we train our minds in meditation to recognize thoughts and to release them kindly, without planning outcomes in a fantasy future. Ego and habitual thoughts constrict us, but in meditation we open to the sea of pure potentiality.

Third, we trust the now. By saying “I don’t know what should happen. I only know this moment,” we leap off the cliff into the divine emptiness that underlies all existence.

We hear the sounds we thought were impossible. We float in spaciousness. We touch the face of God. This is “Thy will be done.” We rest in the Buddha mind, the Christ consciousness, the living water, the now.

And this is where we find the end of poverty, the end of war and the end of suffering.

This is joy.

This is home.



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Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Flickr

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