Where listening lives

Prose, The Ritual Atelier

This week I plan to make a listening stick with my children. I don’t mean to only use it with them. It’s something I need for myself, when I need to pray or have some reflective time. What I will do is take the children on a nature walk, and ask them to find the best stick they can. They need to both agree equally that it’s the best stick. They can’t come up to me with two different sticks and put forward a case that theirs is the best and that I must choose. They need to discuss with each other why they think this or that stick is the best, and agree on which one it is and then come back to me with their joint stick. (Hm, I’m curious how this is going to go…) Then we will look for little nuts and leaves and feathers along the way and put them in our nature walk basket, or bucket or pockets. When we get home, we will collect yarn and wool and thread and twine, glue and wire or plastic – whatever we think will look nice, even shells from previous beach visits, or semi-precious stones we have received as gifts or found in our travels. We will decorate our stick. And then I shall tell this story:

Before there were ever stones or sticks, shells or feathers, there was a great power. It came deep from the heart of the world, and it was made up only of one thing. Some call it love, others call it consciousness. There are names like Gaia, Mother Earth, God, the Great Spirit. I call it The Listener. When you or I speak, even if we are on our own, there is always someone who listens. Somewhere deep down inside us, inside the ground beneath our feet or way up above our heads, there is an entity who listens to us. What a comfort this is to know. Well, eventually when stones and sticks, shells and feathers came to be, the Listener found its home in these things. It also found its way in to the hearts of people. As time passed, people grew layers over their hearts. The layers were dampened by sadness, fear, anger, pain. And the layers got thicker and thicker. Until one day, the heart could not feel clearly and it could not hear clearly. So people would shout. They would misunderstand. They would speak and there was nobody listening. And then the people would shut down and be very quiet indeed.

Now, there was a little girl who had a big brother. They loved each other very much, but there were days that they bickered and could not get along. Sometimes the boy would say things that came into his head that were not always kind. Sometimes the girl would pinch her brother without a word. When these things happened, the boy and the girl became very unhappy and could not find a way around it, except to let it pass with time. One day, the little girl was playing by a creek and came across the most incredible stick – the best stick – she had ever seen. It was just perfect. It fit in her hand perfectly, it was balanced and smooth in the right places and rough in the others. She loved that stick. She took it home and she decorated it with lots of stones and shells and feathers. It sat in the corner of her room and waited patiently. Days passed. One evening before she went to bed, the little girl started to tell the stick the stories of her day. She talked about her feelings. Her ideas. The stick started to glow when she spoke. It became as bright as a lamp and the light spread out into the room and flowed into the little girl until she was simply radiant. Her big brother saw the light coming from a crack under her bedroom door. He came into the room and asked what she was doing. The little girl was bathed in a brilliant white light, holding the stick, and so told him all about it. She spoke of how she’d found it, what she loved about it, how she’d adorned it and what sort of things she spoke to it. The brother made no sound. In fact, he could not. His heart had opened and the words of his little sister poured into him and he heard all that she said. He felt the understanding in his body and it made him feel good and very connected to her. The little girl handed the stick to her brother. He began to speak. About everything she had just said. About how he understood perfectly what she meant. As soon as he had finished putting into his own words what she had said, she nodded as though to say ‘yes, that’s exactly what I meant’. Then he went on to say how he felt in his body, and how grateful he was that she had shared the story of the stick with him. Then he told her that he was sorry he said those mean things the other day and that it was because he was feeling lonely, because he was missing a friend who had moved away, and that it really didn’t have anything to do with her. And the little girl nodded. He gave her the stick and she said all that he had told her, in her own words. He nodded back, relieved, because he felt ‘yes, that’s exactly what I meant.’ From that day forward, after any disagreement or unkind exchange, the little girl and her big brother would retrieve the special listening stick; it would quieten one child, while opening the heart of that same child up from the inside, and help the other child to open up their own heart and speak their truth.

To this day, even though they are old and grey, the sister and brother speak regularly, with great attentiveness and appreciation. And their hearts are permanently open. As for the listening stick, its story has been passed down through the generations to help children all over the world to learn the power of listening. The power that lives deep in the stones, sticks, shells and feathers of our great old beautiful world.

Why don’t you try it out for yourself?

On my knees


The voice I say I don’t have
gets too much airplay
The ears I do have?
Just painted on.
Twenty years since I lay in bed
listening. Your mouth moves
but I only hear the track in my head.

My needs scream, my energy penetrates
my desires demand, my desperation radiates.

When I hear you
I forget me.
I fear.
When I pay attention
I lose me.
I don’t want to hear.
I want you
to see me.
I want you to hear.

The tune, the harmony, of yours and of the world
would enthrall me.
If I would only let them in.

Tear the mesh from my face.
Cut the bonds that limit my understanding.

That I should speak,
But also
invite me
– often
not to speak.

Your story, your melody, your song
belongs here too.

I want learn how to surrender to your pretty air.