One afternoon as I worked in our garden a little neighbor on her way home from school stopped by to chat and as she rambled on about the ups and downs of her day she would often interrupt herself and say: "Are you listening?" To which I dutifully replied: "Of course, Susan." Then I would make some additional comments so as to reassure her that I was not inattentive. As a matter of fact at that particular moment I was more interested in the plants I was setting out than I was in little Susan and her problems and so I did not get the "feel" of what was going on in the child's heart and mind.
"Are you listening?" That remark came back to me several times during the evening and set me to thinking. How often in our contact with people we only half listen and thereby miss real opportunities, for in every meeting with others something can be given or something received — if we are listening with our hearts. This interchange of give and take need not necessarily express itself in any outward way but like a magnetic current may pass from one to another. You may leave a friend or even a fellow bus passenger with a feeling of warmth, of reassurance, merely because of your own inner attitude of quiet confidence, or of buoyancy because of your cheerfulness. And little do we know sometimes just how desperately needed such comfort is.
One evening an ill and elderly lady told me that as she was standing outside a doctor's office that morning, waiting to be picked up by her son, a young woman passed by and gave her such a warm and friendly smile that it lifted her heart and brightened her whole day. We have all had such experiences. Outwardly we may seem bright and gay, but inwardly our hearts may be heavy. And then we meet someone — it may be a stranger — and the power of a sympathetic nature reinforces us interiorly.
Some possess this responsive quality naturally; others express it intermittently and unconsciously according to their moods; but why not do it consciously, and as an expression of love for our fellow man? By listening with our hearts we can become truly sensitive to the needs of others. Also, since this is a two-way street, we shall become more receptive; and thus aware of the beauty and strength in the lives of those about us, we shall thereby realize an enrichment of character from both experiences.
Looking at a beautiful oil painting we realize that an artist is perceptive to ranges of color beyond our present ordinary vision; listening to beautiful music we realize that a musician's awareness of sound is beyond our present powers of hearing. Reading the writings of the great philosophers we realize that the breadth and depth of their mind or consciousness enable them to express great and universal ideas which bring enlightenment to mankind. This, too, they can do to a much greater degree than the average man.
Studying the lives of the spiritually great — those spiritual teachers of mankind down through the ages — we see a greatness of heart that knows no limits and embraces all in its love and complete understanding. Such a one constantly listens with his heart to the call of every being and gives his life in the service of all humanity. In fact he is the living imbodiment of wisdom and love and compassion.
Between the great and the average man are many steps, many gradations of character unfoldment, just as there are many gradations of color and sound and mental and spiritual perception. But anyone, whenever he wishes, can take these steps in interior expansion since all greatness exists potentially within every man's heart and merely awaits the inner drive or urge that will send it forth into manifestation as a living force in his character. A fine, strong, understanding nature is the noblest objective a man can have and the most direct path toward the attainment of such a worthy ideal is the cultivation of the listening heart.
The next time you are around people listen not only with your mind but listen with your heart for the undertones and overtones of what is being said and you will get the "feel" of the person and what he is trying to express. Thus you will realize that he and you are one and that inwardly you are faced with the same conflicts and problems. You will thereby establish links of sympathetic understanding between yourself and others because you will have learned, to a degree at least, the silent language that expresses itself through the quiet depth of a listening heart.
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