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At the paddock gate, stop to become horse.
The whirlwind of everyday thoughts has no useful place here
Leave grind-mind at the gate,
as you would your shoes outside the door of the temple

Listen! Listen with your fingertips, to the cold of the latch
Hear with your eyes, the beads of night-dew frozen now in splendid prisms.

Listen!  Become a great wide door to the heart
Inhale the sound of your boots shuffling
across red clay frozen mud manure and scraps of hay
taste the undulations of hills and trees
dawn murmurings of frost and nascent green, waiting

Listen without commentary
without opinion, without the need to add or take away
listen to the wide sky, and to the slow breathing of the horses
as they come forward, steaming breath,
hearing you, in just this way


I love this Stephen Covey quote:

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

How do we listen, really?  Do we listen in order to judge, to dismiss, to find a point of contention?  Do we listen only well enough to gauge when a response – a grunt – is called for?  Do we listen to gather evidence that we are right and that they are wrong? Do we listen so that we can reply, or one-up the speaker?  When the sunrise speaks to us, do we compare it to another, or simply let it fill us?

Each of us yearns to be heard, to be understood.  How well, how deeply, do we listen?

To listen deeply is compassion.

Last night, considering these things and how to write about them, I went to the paddock fence.  Kit, my black and white spotted draft horse meandered over to greet me.  I often talk with the horses about writing.  No, I don’t expect answers, but they do tend to put me in a receptive mood.

You see, for the past millenia or two, horses have refined the art of listening far, far beyond the capacity of any human being.  They are prey animals, profoundly attuned to the slightest shift in temperature, movement, sound.  Their ability to read body language, scent, and the slightest nuance of thought, is what keeps them alive.  Horses listen.  While we’re busy anthropomorphizing about what they’re thinking, they’re simply paying attention – and responding, one hundred percent.

Kit approached the fence.  She raised her gargantuan head as though to kiss me.  She gently brushed the hair from the left side of my face, and positioned her monstrous nostril directly over my left ear, covering it.  And then, she sighed, long and slow.  She withdrew a bit, reached around to the other side of my face, and put her nose next to my right ear.  Again, she exhaled, warm and soft, and long.

So tempting to make something – to imagine that she was “saying” something.  So easy to create a story where Kit was sending me a particular message.  But, that would be adding frost to snow.  Perhaps better just to smile my heart wide open and receive the gift.

To listen, really listen, is to risk being changed by what you hear.

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