Contributed by Executive Director, The Rev. Tara Soughers
In this very contentious election season, I am finding myself feeling overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with messages, overwhelmed with reactions, overwhelmed with expressions of hate and anger, and when I get overwhelmed, I get anxious. My mind starts whirling around, exploring all of the horrible scenarios that have been suggested, until I feel afraid. Of course, fear is a weapon in this political season. It can be an effective way to propel people into an action that you want them to take. But actions taken out of fear are rarely helpful. Most often they are problematic, and sometimes destructive. Fear is contagious, and it sets up a cycle that encourages others to lash out in fear as well. There is a part of me that simply wants to shut it all out, retire to a place where no one can find me, where there are no newspapers, no television, and no internet until all of this fear-laden rhetoric is gone. But I can’t. I have a responsibility to act on behalf of my community, be it local or national or even global. I need to listen, but I need to listen in a different way. I need to engage in holy listening.
Holy listening is a way of deep listening with love and compassion. I need to recognize when others are speaking out of their fear, and listen not with my own fear, but in love and compassion. I need to model a way of listening that is not seeking to strike out, to score points, to win an argument, but listening to understand. As the mystic Rumi says, “You will learn by reading but you will understand with love.” I need to listen not to learn so much— my learning needs to come from seeking out facts in order to combat the lack of information or even misinformation in the anger-laden speech— but to understand the one who is speaking. I need to listen in a way that models love, not hate, for only love can overcome the divisive rhetoric of our public dialogue. I need to listen in a way that honors the value of each voice, even those voices that are expressing hatred and ideas that I find abhorrent.
I am afraid that I am not always very good at that kind of listening. I can get caught up in the fear and anxiety, and respond accordingly. But when I do, I am betraying what I truly believe, that all people are made in God’s image and likeness, and all are inestimable value because they are children of God. It is times like this that challenge me to live as I claim I believe.
I find that in order to be able to listen to others, particularly in difficult times, I need to spend some time listening to myself, and listening for God. For me, this is best accomplished in nature. I need to spend some time simply sitting and listening to what is around me, sounds that do not carry fear, that do not ask me to do something right now, that are simply there. Rumi says, “The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” When I sit for a while in silence, I begin to hear the small sounds, the wind rustling leaves, insects flying around, waves lapping gentle, squirrels chittering, bird singing. I hear the things that I normally can’t hear when I am feeling overwhelmed, and I find myself relaxing and coming back to myself. The anxiety drops, the fear lessens, and my hearing with love and gratitude is restored.
It is then that I can return to the frenzy of my everyday world, able to respond more out of love and less out of fear. For more love and less fear is desperately needed in our world, and at least for me, holy listening is one of the ways in which I am able to live more out of love.
I invite all of you to share practices which help you, in this time of great anxiety in our country, to live and make decisions out of love, not fear.