Friday, May 13, 2011

Ssshhhh - Listen

Can you close your eyes for a moment and listen carefully to the world around you? What do you hear?

Right now my eyes are closed. (Yes, I can type with my eyes closed and that makes me doubly grateful for spell check).

"Why", you ask? I'm glad you did, dear Reader.

I'm listening to the world around me. It's incredible what you can hear when you concentrate. Right now I can hear my fingers on the keyboard, the clicking of the keys as I type, the whir of the fan in the computer, an airplane flying overhead (a seaplane, to be exact), at least three different types of birds singing outside, one of my cats lightly snoring on the chair next to me, a car that is probably 2 streets over, and a fly buzzing in the room. (I suspect I won't hear that fly for much longer.) Oh, I also hear the wind rustling the leaves in the tree outside and a neighbour dow nthe road with his lawnmower.

Ok. My eyes are open again.

I did this little experiment because I was reminded the other day of the importance of listening. I know I talk a lot about it, but I think it really is that important.

There are a few times that I have referred to the story by Haji Mirza Haydar-Ali, in which He says:
"[Bahá'u'lláh] spoke about teaching. He said: 'A kindly approach and loving behavior toward the people are the first requirements for teaching the Cause. The teacher must carefully listen to whatever a person has to say -- even though his talk consist only of vain imaginings and blind repetitions of the opinions of others. One should not resist or engage in argument. The teacher must avoid disputes which will end in stubborn refusal or hostility, because the other person will feel overpowered and defeated. Therefore, he will be more inclined to reject the Cause. One should rather say, "Maybe you are right, but kindly consider the question from this other point of view." Consideration, respect, and love encourage people to listen and do not force them to respond with hostility. They are convinced because they see that your purpose is not to defeat them, but to convey truth, to manifest courtesy, and to show forth heavenly attributes. This will encourage the people to be fair. Their spiritual natures will respond, and, by the bounty of God, they will find themselves recreated.'

"'Consider the way in which the Master teaches the people. He listens very carefully to the most hollow and senseless talk. He listens so intently that the speaker says to himself, "He is trying to learn from me." Then the Master gradually and very carefully, by means that the other person does not perceive, puts him on the right path and endows him with a fresh power of understanding.'"
This came up at our recent reflection meeting, in which we were asked to focus a bit more on this extremely important quality, the art of listening. It was figured that this would greatly help us in our teaching work.

To aid us in this, Marielle and I were asked to select the devotions. At the end of the prayers, we decided to share a couple of stories about 'Abdu'l-Baha, and used this quote as our guide. Below are two stories as retold from the book Portals to Freedom. I hope you enjoy them, at least as much as we did.

Howard Colby Ives was present when an elderly minister met with the Master, and interviewed Him. This minister proceeded to ask many long and hypothetical questions. They were evidently so ridiculous that even Mr Ives was embarrassed. He could not believe that anyone could be so impervious to 'Abdu'l-Baha's loving influence. But the Master just sat there perfectly calm, never flagging in interest. He sat, as is pointed out in the book, with "His hands in His lap with palms upward, as was characteristic". 'Abdu'l-Baha sat there, paying careful attention, watching the minister with an expression of love that never failed.

As the minister talked on and on, Mr Ives got more and more impatient. "How", he wondered, "can the Master not see the superficial nature of the questions? Why wasn't the interview cut short?"

But even if others grew impatient, 'Abdu'l-Baha did not. He encouraged the minister to express himself fully. If the speaker paused, the Master responded with short replies and then waited courteously for him to continue.

Finally, the minister was finished. And there was silence.

Then, and only then, did the Master begin to speak, softly, resonantly, His voice filling the room. He spoke mostly of "His Holiness Christ", and the high station of the Chirstian clergy. He spoke of the importance of adorning ourselves with atributes of God, and of the coming Kingdom of God, foretold by Jesus. In just a few moments the minister had become humble, a disciple at His feet.

Then the Master rose, and all rose with Him. And then his eyes lighted on a large bunch of roses, a couple dozen of them. Everyone had noticed how large, beautiful and fragrant they were. As soon as the Master had seen them, He laughed aloud with a great boyish laugh. He gathered the whole bunch together and placed them all in the elderly minister's arms. The minister was very surprised, and had become truly humble, radiant, transformed. 'Abdu'-Baha knew how to teach with the Love and God.

Howard Colby Ives was always hard pressed to try and describe the Master. He had heard of others who were described as "good listeners", but none could listen like the Master. He listened so carefully that it was as if the two individuals become one. It was as if 'Abdu'l-Baha so closely identified Himself with the speaker that speech on His part was unnecessary.

And with that, Mr Ives understood: 'Abdu'l-Baha seemed to listen to him with his own ears.

Oh, if we could only learn such a thing, how much more would we understand about others. And ourselves.

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