What does this mean?
Nearly 1500 years ago St Benedict wrote a book called The Rule of Benedict, defining the daily life of those who chose to live a monastic life. It had 73 chapters and included details like how much each monk was allowed to consume each day. (For those who are interested, it was two hot meals, 454 g of bread, and 250 ml of wine.)
But what is most quoted is the opening injunction, which was to listen carefully, with the ears of the heart to God’s, and the abbot’s, instructions.
Most of us find listening with our ears hard to do, and listening with our hearts sounds even harder.
What did St Benedict mean?
The Difference Between Hearing and Listening
There is a difference between hearing something and listening to something.
Hearing happens when sound waves enter my ear canal and hit the eardrum. The resultant vibrations shake the three tiny bones in my inner ear and send electrical impulses to my brain’s auditory centre where the sounds are interpreted.
‘Ah!’ I say inside my head. ‘A magpie is calling.’ Then I continue tying a double knot on my walking shoes or washing the dishes. This is called hearing.
Listening happens when I focus on the call pattern being emitted and appreciate the beauty and clarity of that bird’s call.
Listening With the Ears of My Heart
But listening with my heart is a further step, a deeper involvement in sound and its interpretation.
‘Hi,’ I say. ‘How are you?’
‘Fine,’ you reply. ‘And you?’
‘Fine,’ I say.
The above dialogue is both hearing and listening with the ears. It happens quickly and automatically.
I heard the sounds you made, and my brain interpreted the sounds into words in a sentence that I understood. You are fine. I move quickly past you and get on with the rest of my tightly scheduled day.
But listening with my heart means I also take a moment to look into your eyes, notice your tone of voice, and read your body language. This data isn’t funnelled through my logical, factual, practical brain, but through my receptive heart, where it is interpreted correctly.
The message my heart tells me is that you aren’t fine. Your eyes look strained, or you look away as you reply. Your tone of voice is flat, or bright and happy despite your strained eyes. My heart tells me that perhaps you are sad or hurt or confused or bored or feeling helpless or lonely.
Suddenly my plans aren’t that important. A few minutes of my time can be spent with you.
St Benedict instructed those living a monastic life to listen to God with the ears of their heart. Most of us are not monastic but we can follow this injunction.
God (Universal Oneness, Universal Intelligence, the Divine) doesn’t usually speak to us audibly. But if we listen with the ears of our heart we will hear the Divine speak to us through nature, objects, and other people.
Listening with the ears of our heart is simply hearing ourselves in others and then responding with heartfelt kindness.
The Dalai Lama once said:
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
Let’s be kind.
Let’s listen to others with the ears of our hearts.
With love, Marlane
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