Listening (a story)

| musings, stories |

One of my favorite meditations is about listening. Listening to all of the sounds around me- the morning birds, passing car radios, upstairs footsteps, kids yelling, my breath- and in me- my heart beating, ears buzzing, throat swallowing, and also a deep silence around all of these sounds. Thinking about this reminded me of a story. This is from Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro’s chapter in Meditation from the Heart of Judaism:

One morning a group of teenagers asked Reb Yerachmiel, “What is the point of human life? Why are we here?

The rebbe replied, “If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?” The children debated this for a while, and then the rebbe replied, “Here is my understanding. Without an ear to register the vibrations of the falling tree, no sound is produced. Sound is not a thing but a transaction between things. For there to be a sound, there must be a falling tree and an ear to hear. Why are we here? We are the other half of the transaction. We are here to hear.”

“But other beings hear!” a student said. “And dogs can hear sounds humans can’t hear. Are dogs more important than us?”

“True,” Reb Yerachmiel said. “Dogs can hear what we cannot. But we can hear what even dogs cannot. We can hear the cry of a broken heart. We can hear the outrage of injustice. We can hear the whisper of empathy. We can hear the silence of death. We are here to listen not only to what everyone else can hear, but also to that which only we can hear.”

I think the story is a good reminder about paying attention, not only to everything around us, but also to that deep knowing inside that guides us toward our path in this world, to being more kind, working to create a just world, growing and learning to be honest about who we are and how we engage with ourselves and others. (Also, who doesn’t love a made up rebbe who contemplates a tree falling in the forest?)