Listening to the Call
“How do we listen for, as well as distinguish the calls that are raining upon us constantly, as often they are obscured by our inattention? As the sculptor Auguste Rodin once said, “We need to listen as if to hear from behind the wall, the songs of birds who populate the secret garden.” If we don’t listen, the callings go unnoticed, and we are the worse for it. Our lives become absurd––ab-surdus, meaning to be absolutely deaf. We must listen like someone in love. As the theologian Paul Tillich once said, the first duty of love is to listen.
Listening is hard work, whether we are in love or not. The discipline of paying close attention to ourselves, to others, to the vital signs that come across the screen of our lives informs us through dreams, intuitions, feedback, and longings, which help us know or awaken to what our calls are. The practice of listening will tell us what is true and what is not, when to proceed and when to postpone, what to trust or not, which directions to take at the crossroads, and what’s right for us and where we are willing to be led.
In discerning a call, we must use good judgment. Effective judges understand that the truth is not simple. Discernment helps us reach a wise decision and to act upon it. Which is perhaps the best way to practice discernment. Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, says that the great sacrilege in not paying attention to the call, or our hungers, or our bliss. In terms of the soul’s integrity, that sacrilege is of “inadvertence, of not being alert, not awake.”
As someone kept asking Buddha, are you a god? Buddha’s answer was “no”. “Are you an angel?” Buddha’s answer was “no”. “Who are you then?” And Buddha’s answer was, “I am awake.” When we are awake, we become a good tracker. In Tom Brown’s book, The Tracker, he says “The first track is the end of a string. At the far end, a being is moving. A mystery that leaves itself like a trail of breadcrumbs, and by the time your mind has eaten its way to the maker of the tracks, the mystery is inside you.”
The healthiest response to a calling is to take a consistent action that supports the next step. Am I listening? What am I hearing? Do I know? How are we being called? Individually and collectively at this time? What is the response and wise action that would support the call?”
––Adapted and synthesized by Angeles Arrien
from small portions of Gregg Levoy’s book, Callings