"When I listen to you, it is also important that I listen to me." That is one of the basic tenets in the practice of spiritual direction. The idea is to listen when someone else speaks to us but also to keep an inner ear tuned to how the words are affecting us inside.
It doesn't mean tuning out what the other person is saying while we smile and nod and think about where we're going for lunch. Nor does it refer to the common practice of planning what we're going to say as soon as we can get a word in edgewise.
Listening to ourself refers to the practice of being mindful of how we are engaging the words. Listening and noting how the words are affecting us emotionally, which ones we identify with, the ideas and topics that make us angry, defensive, fearful or excited.
Listening to ourselves in this way provides a real opportunity to gain some personal insights. It's a process that's useful, maybe essential, to the task of knowing ourselves.
Listening to ourselves while we take in the words of another also applies to the written word. In a very real sense, what is written with words may not be nearly as important a self knowledge tool as what we read into the material.
I had that message driven home, once again, just the other day. A week ago this column talked about tending the Spirit in organizations. How the collective Spirit of, for example, a business may be nurtured or injured by its policies, procedures and practices.
Apparently, it was a topic that struck a chord with an awful lot of readers. I received e-mails, phone calls and even remarks on the street from people who all thought the column was about them or their company.
"When were you at one of our company meetings?" said one.
"I read your article in the newspaper," wrote another, "about stuff that happened here."
"Gee," said yet another, "it takes guts to write that stuff about a company you're working for."
That person, of course, was obviously just joking around.
In truth, the organization in the column was built from a conglomerate of places I've had the opportunity to experience in the past. Granted, in some cases, the not-too-distant past, but the past nevertheless.
What is particularly interesting, and useful, about all the folks who thought the column was about them, was that some liked what the column implied while others were bothered by it. In the end, how we react to what we hear or read says so much more about ourselves than what is actually written or said.
Last week we also ran a story about Roger Haight, a Jesuit priest and professor of historical and systematic theology who is also an author. Haight wrote a book called, "Jesus, Symbol of God," which has gotten him into hot water with the Vatican's enforcer of orthodoxy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Haight is in trouble for a variety of reasons, chief among which is how the Vatican has interpreted Haight's discussion of religious pluralism.
I have had some correspondence with Haight, who has been put on leave from his teaching post yet honoring his pledge not to make any public statements about the situation. I have also read, and wrestled with, his book and my read was that it leans toward the conservative. I'm convinced that the actions against Haight that the Vatican has taken are much more of an indictment of the readers than of the author.
Metaphor and symbol are wonderful teachers in that they invite us into an engaged, participatory experience. The reflective process of peeling back the layers of meaning in what we read or hear offers the opportunity for unlimited discovery and self development.
A stork lands in a tree in a family's front yard. One person looks up and says, "Guess someone is having a baby." That turns the stork into superstition.
Another person looks up and wonders what meaning may be there. "Who do you say I am?" the stork may seem to say. "What is my meaning for you?"
It is this inner engagement, this peeling back of the layers of a lesson or a reading, that gives symbols, including language, its greatest power.
When we read a book, or a column, and have an emotional response, say anger, we can get mad at the author. Or, we can look deeper into the source of our anger. We can peer into ourself for the lesson or the truth that we don't want to see.
"When the student is ready," says the old adage, "the teacher will appear." If we look deeply enough into spoken or written words, they may become like clear pools of water or pieces of polished glass, reflecting back different facets of the student and teacher within. What we choose to do with the lesson is always up to us.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.