A Listening Life has words too…

I have always leaned into listening. I liked hearing the stories of my elders, and learned that if I sat quietly, they would forget I was there and tell the deeper story not always told to a child. I loved listening to the morning birds, the wind rustling the corn stalks in fall, the mews of baby kittens, and the heavy lavender silence of dusk out the back door of the barn. I listened to friends through their many different struggles with relationships, and later I listened carefully in my career at a physical therapist, learning that if I did, the patient would inevitably guide my hands in the treatment. And then I began to listen as a spiritual director to others on their spiritual path, to the dying as a hospice chaplain, to my parish members as a pastor, and then to the homeless and marginalized in a place I founded called the Listening Post. (www.listeningpostanchorage.com)

After 10 years of this listening, I knew my soul needed a rest, and after much hand-wringing, took a sabbatical from listening shifts. I needed time for a clearing and sharpening of my beliefs about listening and what my part was as a listener. Now in the 4th month of this sabbatical, I listened deeply within this week and heard that all the listening I’ve done needs to be balanced by speaking.. by giving voice to what I have learned. So I come to this sharing table, this blog, to listen interiorly and mine this kind of gold too– with my writing.

Today at a writer’s workshop I was asked to describe myself in 7 words. But instead of writing down the usual things, like listing what I do or what degrees I’ve achieved, my pen wrote….WHISPERING WILD, WEARING A WOLF CAPE— WARILY.

At first, I recoiled from what had been written, seeming as if it wasn’t “I” but the pen itself taking over.  What kind of answer is that? And why all these “W’s”? And yet I was secretly delighted when these words jumped out on their own and surprised me.  Skirting the usual radar of acceptability, I tapped into this new vein. (And reading Women Who Run with Wolves  surely sparked this new description).

Whispering Wild? Where is that in me? I can say this: right from the start  I live in Alaska because its wilderness tackled me to the ground, and I’ve never been able to leave its grip. It’s not the kind of wild that is out of control; it is the wild that is so natural that it is not conscious of itself–it just is. In this wild, there is no good or bad or right or wrong. A river brings life, a river brings death. A wolf kills, a wolf is killed. The mountain is beautiful. The mountain is cold. It demands that you accept it, face it, and if you can open even more, let it become part of your own being.

The first summer I came to this country from the prairies of Iowa, I watched two wolves hunting in Denali National Park. They weaved in and out in a figure 8 as they moved effortlessly and efficiently  across the tundra, alert and yet relaxed…. as if they were a river or the wind. That’s how it seems to me in the truly wild–the difference in spirit is so very slight; if  I gaze softly, I can sense I too am river, wind, mountain and even, that wolf.

I’m intrigued to describe myself as wearing a wolf cape, taking on that spirit of the wild that sings from deep in the bowels, both exciting and curdling the soul. Yet I am wary–am I ready to be my truly natural self, to step into a life where I listen past culture, old beliefs, my comfortable habits, my ways of keeping safe? A beautiful question to hold, knowing it is also unfolding right before me.

As I sit here contemplating this whispering wild part of me, I hear a shout from my husband. “Bear!” It was as if she kept that Memorial Day weekend appointment to appear. I watched this first bear of the season amble into my yard tonight, its coat so sleek and shiny, undulating as it padded confidently on its way back into the woods, it too “whispering wild”, as if inviting me as well.

“I’ve not forgotten the song of those dark years, hambre del alma, the song of the starved soul. But neither have I forgotten the joyous canto tondo, the deep song, the words of which come back to us when we do the work soulful reclamation.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes


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