I often feel guilty for not being more present in the exploding world of blogs, podcasts, and videos. I spend too little time, it feels, listening to others, and precious little time creating personal content. A voice, demanding I change my errant ways, screams from all directions. “You need to write every day.” “Only those who create content with regularity command an audience.” “Why are you withholding all that you know from others?” When I listen to this voice, I judge myself harshly for being lazy and lacking dedication.
But there is a softer, more timid voice I hear when I listen carefully, and quiet the voice of condemnation. That voice fears that a forced dedication to creating and publishing would simply unleash yet more clatter in a world already overwhelmed by tumult. It asks, “does the world need more noise?”
A group of professionals unknowingly forced me to step into this war of emotions and mediate a cease-fire. They asked me to address the topic of how and when to speak. I was horrified. There are thousands of books, articles, blogs, videos and podcasts on the topic. I am certain I have nothing to add to that chorus of oft-conflicting voices. Anything I might suggest, I felt, would add, not wisdom, but noise.
After hours of denial and reflection, a moment of inspiration arrived from some unknowable place. I began to consider what might emerge if I addressed the topic of how and when to remain silent. Perhaps then, we might find a more compelling place from which to speak.
When the group gathered, I asked how many shared my guilt for not spending more time perusing the online world of thoughts, opinions, and ideas. The nearly unanimous chorus was comforting. Then I asked, “When you do find time, how much of what you experience fundamentally changes your ways of seeing the world—fills you with awe—and how much simply reiterates, rearranges, or regurgitates ideas you already know?” An informal poll indicated that most felt little more than 5% filled them with awe. I suggested we refer to that small percent as “awe-full” and the rest as noise.
So, how might we restrict our words to the 5% that fills others with awe? How do we find and speak to wisdom, and silence the noise? Hidden deeply beneath the question “What and how to speak?” lies the question “When to remain silent?”
The 14th century Persian poet, Hafiz once wrote, “I am a hole in the flute through which God’s breath flows.”
How might we be different in the world if we were to think of ourselves, not as the flute nor the breath, but simply as the hole? What if we were to remain silent, in thought and deed, until what was coming through us was nothing less than the breath of God?
You needn’t believe in God to be moved by this thought. Regardless of your faith, or lack thereof, most of us understand we are an infinitesimal piece of an inexplicable mystery known as the Universe. What if, in our smallness, we were to think about what it would mean to allow the mystery of the Universe to flow through us?
For me, the most powerful messages I ever discover are those I listen deeply to hear. Not what comes from me, but is aching to come through me. In my most awe-filled moments, I realized the confluence of thoughts, ideas, and experiences I refer to as myself are no more than a capacity through which the Universe itself is trying to be seen and heard. If I can remain true to simply being the hole, and refrain from imagining myself to be the breath or the flute, only then is there hope.
In the end, when we find enough silence so that which moves through us is the breath of God, it will do its work in the world, despite our inability to deliver it with perfection.
1 thought on “Listening for the Breath of God”
Roger, your words on the timeliness of silence as a foundation for productive speech is provocative. The internet seems to have become an aspect of nearly every part of our lives. As you indicate it is mostly noise. Social media is generally a gathering of individuals desperate to be acknowledged, to find substance through the evanescent “likes” of others who they do not know and will never meet. I agree with your inclination that it is better not to add to the noise, to allow silence to be the seedbed of speech that is timely. You bring up the matter of the time demands of consuming social media or of producing content. I asked myself as I read, ‘well what is time for?’ I know that my time on earth, but a millisecond in the arc of the universe, is for productive change, to direct my one life in a way that will enhance the quality of experience for myself and those within my circle of influence, including Nature. Will my life have a wider significance? That I cannot know, and must not worry about.
The saying employing the metaphor of a human subject as an empty hole, an opening for the universe to express otherwise hidden meaning, seems a productive thought to me. I want to hold that thought in mind for a while.
For your interest I recommend anything written by James P. Carse, professor of history and lit. of religion at NY University. His writings are in the vein of your post. His book, Finite Games And Infinite Games has changed my life.