They are intimately connected. What is their relationship, and how can we live in the dynamic reality that emerges from their unquiet union?
We hear so much about it these days, Living in the Now, as if it is the holy grail of spiritual freedom. Schools of psychotherapy, yoga, and Buddhism have done a tremendous job in bringing the focus of our collective consciousness into the Now. And yet, I often wonder if Mnemosyne, the goddess of Memory, is weeping? If so, perhaps what she needs from us is not wallowing in the misery of the past, but a careful threading of images and symbols into the Now that doesn’t leave our identity out in the cold of spiritual zeal.
What if a path to experiencing the Now lies in a very simple, but often elusive tool: the ability to listen to ourselves, and to others. Some of us listen for a living. We cultivate these skills over decades. Nonetheless, I find it is a capacity we can never take for granted. Like meditation, it requires a commitment to consciousness that is born anew each moment.
Listening can be the gentle floating bridge that allows the simple magic of life to emerge. After Alan Rickman died I found an interview with him on You Tube, on acting and listening. He makes the elegant case that the whole game for an actor is to surrender to active listening on stage. This is where the character comes to life, not in the reciting of one’s own dialog, but in the deep listening to the other characters, being sensitive to the energy of the space on stage, making every moment a discovery.
How would this change the experience of every day life, if we could listen deeply, valuing the beauty of the Now.
In Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest, Prospero, disturbed by the discovery of the treachery of his fellows, tells his daughter, “A turn or two I’ll walk, to still my beating mind.” I have often wondered if Shakespeare was referring to his own mind in late middle age, “beating” with all the images and memories of the past and present, as he looked down the road to the “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns” (Hamlet, from the “to be or not to be” speech)
Shakespeare probably knew well another great treasure of the Now: the wellspring of creativity. Imagine the difference: Will Shakespeare walking through the streets of London, worrying about the receipts from his last play, gnashing through an argument with an actor the night before, chiding himself because he has no idea what he’s going to write for his next play….Contrast Will Shakespeare walking through the streets of London, listening to the voices all around him – a street vendor selling strawberries, a woman talking to her baby, a riff of music in the distance, a lark heralding the dawn—and, as he listens, his eyes take in the faces of those around him, the texture of the stones on the path, the tiny bud of a rose appearing in a garden.
I like to think Will Shakespeare brought himself back to the Now, time and time again. That he knew better than anyone that a worried, distracted mind is not a creative mind. The mind needs rest, and presence, to spring forth words that evoke the tragedy, the comedy, the beauty of our precious life on earth.
Just now, on this frosty January morning as my freezing fingers tap on the keyboard – a dog barks – a crow lands on the roof – I can see the dense fog settling on the Lake through the bare branches of the coral bark.
Where are you at this moment? What sounds, sights, memory, or dreams are emerging? I wish you a life of listening deeply, and finding a place from which creativity, love for self and others, and emotional freedom can flourish.
Beautifully stated, Elizabeth, and so wise. Yes, threading significant moments and lessons from the past into the present, and being more present in the present, deeply listening with our whole being, is a skill we can cultivate and a gift we can offer ourselves, others and the World.
Thank you so much Elizabeth for this eloquent invitation to continually return to the Now of Listening. I find that my professional listening is sometimes compromised by her competing sibling of professional doing. This is the drive to be effectively helping, relieving this suffering or conflict that I see before me. In those moments it is best to return to the movement of the breath in my belly, and just allow for this old familiar urgency to do something for the (m)other, without acting on it. “Yes, you are here again. Feel the full spaciousness of my breath; it is holding us.” And with this inner listening, I return anew to the outer listening.