"Unpredictable as life itself, the practice of listening is one of the most mysterious, luminous, and challenging art forms on earth," writes Mark Nepo, a poet, philosopher, and author of 13 books including The New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening. He lives in southwest Michigan. Visit him at www.MarkNepo.com and www.ThreeIntentions.com.
A widely used description of human beings is that we have two ears and one tongue. This means that to truly fulfill our purpose on earth, we have to listen twice as much as we speak. Yet if we pay attention to civil discourse these days, we find that people are so busy shouting at one another it is hard to figure out what anyone is saying. There are many zealots among us and although we can respect their passion, we are saddened by their inability to listen to others. From talk shows to television news there is a surfeit of chatter along with a rampant fear of silence.
As many of you familiar Mark Nepo's writings already know, he is a consummate master of telling stories and parables about people's hopes, dreams, yearnings, fears, sorrows, and triumphs. He has divided this engrossing book into three sections under the banner of friendships — the work of being, the work of being human, and the work of love.
Nepo has provided a large number of "reflective pauses" throughout this journey through listening which enable the reader to immediately process his or her feelings, come into the present moment, or probe past experiences. "Though this book is called Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, there is obviously no secret number, no secret path involved. This just a way of pointing to a path that has no end. As you read and gather notions of listening, I invite you to interchange them and grow your own sense of meaning along the way." To support you in this quest, his pauses include instructions for a brief meditation, journal questions, and table questions. There is a lot to work with here!
There is no end to the riches of listening since this spiritual practice "stitches the world together," is a passport to everything that is meaningful, serves as a catalyst to vitality and creativity, enlivens the heart, gives expression to reverence, and connects us with Spirit.
Nepo skillfully uses his broad perspective to explore the bounties of deep listening as he weaves together illustrative material from poetry, philosophy, religion, anthropology, science, literature. and health. We were impressed and enlightened by so many passages, in particular his commentaries on:
• Wallace Stevens' legendary poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"
• Hildegard of Bingen's listening through prayer
• the Inuit practice of listening below the surface of things
• the process of saging
• the ethic of wonder
• the art of a deaf percussionist
• the Heart Sutra
• listening and music
• the work of the soul
• the seasons of listening
• the importance of presence and mindfulness
• finding birdsong
• the lessons of pain
• honoring the courage and love of a bodihisattva
See what we mean about his broad perspective? Nepo has written a masterwork on the spiritual practice of listening which plays such a predominant role in our private and public lives. His multidimensional exploration of this art ought to encourage young and old alike to become more open, hospitable, loving, and compassionate as we do not allow our differences with others to obscure what we have in common.
The author rightly demonstrates with his writing that a listening heart is a requirement of living in the 21st century. He makes it clear that listening to our inner voices is a worthwhile adventure as well. Best of all, Nepo models with his own life and work the inestimable value of this timely spiritual practice.