Like many people I wake in the morning with a Âto doÂ list in my head. Before I am even aware of where I am my mind is going through all that has to be done with quite a lot of emotions tagged on to how I feel about what is before me. Listening to the ÂTodayÂ programme and going through the motions of getting up and getting out crowd my head with more stuff, so that although I have one of the shortest and most attractive journeys to work you can imagine, I can be oblivious to all of it, aware only of what is in my head.
But some days something happens and everything is changed. I listen.
I am deeply privileged in as much as I start my working day in a chapel, usually with time set aside before the first service of the day begins. Sitting on a chair in the chapel it is perfectly possible to continue the running commentary that began almost before I was fully awake. Minutes can pass without any awareness at all of my surroundings or myself, completely cut off in the world inside my head.
But sometimes the song of a bird or the tap of a branch on the window breaks through and suddenly, in a moment, all is changed. Hearing the bird and becoming aware of hearing the bird brings you suddenly into the present moment. Listening for the next call makes you acutely aware of the silence between as well as the call of the bird. And all this somehow makes you aware of yourself in the place in which you are. It is a kind of bird ÂwatchingÂ with the ears and it makes sacred the present moment.
Reading this you would be forgiven for thinking, ÂWell, it is all very well for you with your quietness broken only by birdsong, but I live on a main road in a town!Â I was first taught to listen to the noises outside as a way of quietening myself and bringing myself into the present moment, when I lived in a town. Listening to specific traffic noises can wake you up to the present moment just as well. And even on a main road there are moments of surprising silence in which you wait, aware and listening acutely for the next sound.
St Benedict famously began his ÂRule,Â with the words, ÂListen, my son.Â He meant listen acutely as if you were a doctor listening to someoneÂs heart through a stethoscope. If we really want to listen we have to concentrate on something other than what is in our heads. We have to be still, to concentrate, to forget ourselves and to allow the other, whatever or whoever it is, in. In doing this, strangely, we find ourselves, our true and whole selves. Listening anchors us in the now.