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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243 Comments on “Are You Listening?

  1. This is a stunning combination of poem coupled with essay.

    The poem begins by grabbing my by the face with line “At the paddock gate, stop to become horse”. This made me stop and wonder what this could be like, to become a horse.

    The poem winds then through a vivid synesthesia of imagery during which I walk on rough frozen mud and crud, feel the icy cold and “nascent green” and smell hay and horses.

    The pause for a quote is like standing for a moment on a rock in the middle of a stream before continuing to the other side.

    Then the essay lifts its wings in a sensitive exploration of what it means to really listen… as a horse.

    This caught and held my attention from the first line to the end. And I was left with the feeling that I was a “good girl”, a “good listener” all the way through.

    Did I say I love this? Did I say you write like a spiritual master? I do. You do.

    You have a gift. Keep writing.

    • Alice, your feedback means a lot to me. Hope you’ll be as candid when I write crap. (I mean that!) Your beautiful comment makes me feel heard. Look at that – you are indeed a good listener. Thank you, Alice.
      … and, oooo! I like the part about standing on a stone in the stream before you finish crossing over. nice!

      • Great writing, then. Sometimes folks post somebody else’s work but don’t necessarily give credit. I’m a poet, myself, so really appreciate a fabulous poem like this one. Now I can share it on fb 😉

        • Thanks for the kind words. You’re right though. Just blows me away that people would post something that wasn’t theirs and not cite it. I haven’t had a chance yet to check out your work. I look forward to doing so this weekend. A FB share? I’d be thrilled!

  2. Hi there, the poem is beautiful and deserves to be printed out in big letters… thanks for putting this into words! Have an excellent evening! Jenny

  3. Wonderful post, Zen Doe. I wish I would have read it before a morning talk my wife. I was listening to judge. I think when we try to change others we cannot really listen and “risk being changed by what” we hear. I need to get that tattooed on my eyelids. Thank you for this refreshing walk in the paddock and reminder to listen, let, and love. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo

    • Listening is a lifetime practice, Kozo. I don’t think we ever “get there”. That’s the wonderful thing though – It is a bottomless effort. There’s no end to the opportunity to explore getting out of our own way. 😉

  4. I haven’t read in a while. I haven’t listened in a while, damn it.

    While bringing up my 8-month old, I have stopped showing respect to the language that means more than any other — that of the heart and of the restful mind. The wordless stream that surrounds, but never really demands attention. Thank you for gently shaking me up from my reverie. I shall resume listening.

    • Thank you for the beautiful comment. An 8-month old does demand ALL of our attention. 🙂 You’ll find moments to “listen”, I’m sure. Be well, ZD

    • How wonderful! I’m so very glad that you enjoyed the post and re-blogged. Take a moment in that quiet to love yourself.

  5. This is so sublime I would have listened like a horse even if I had started out to judge, dismiss or anything else, which I never do with your writing anyway 🙂 I look forward to your posts very eagerly, so thank you so much for sharing your gift.

  6. Oh, thank you! I just wrote a post myself on something a bit similar – about looking and listening – but so clumsily in comparison to your lovely words. You have captured the absolute essence of this in such purity it just shines with loveliness. I should love to re-blog this if I may, as others have already done.

    • Your piece is perfect! I really enjoyed it. You’re more than welcome to re-blog, but your kitchen sink beauty is already perfection!

  7. What an amazing post…I have just discovered your blog after you visited mine, and I’m so glad. You write beautifully and skillfully, and I was captivated from the moment we met ‘the paddock gate’. Really stopping and just listening sounds so simple, but its so hard when our busy brains get in the way. Your post stopped my thinking mind and brought me beautifully into the moment. Thank you 🙂

  8. Reblogged this on Coming Out Crooked and commented:
    so many others have captured my overall feeling for this post, but as always when you touch that special place and connect with my soul, I have to tell you…so I am telling you. your words held me breathless. listening with every fiber of my being. I walked with you through every keystroke. every vision painted alive in the beautiful nakedness of a wintry country landscape. water colors of icy blue-white crunch. silent in your shadow I followed the movements of your heart. loving the rightness in the calmness of each beat. and marveled once again at the amazing connection between horse and woman…in each nuzzle and soft blast of breath. and felt as close to what you felt as is humanly possible. taking nothing. giving nothing. not wanting to change a thing. it was a perfect experience. I have told you before, zen and I will continue to tell you. You are beautiful. there are times when your writings affect me so deeply that stumbling into your words and the emotions you capture is almost otherworldly. so completely fulfilling. a momentary spiritual transportation. that in the end, I always leave feeling as if I have indeed, been touched by the wind…and something so much bigger then me. I am so grateful that you share your that with me. I love this zen. you are an inspiring, genuine phenomenal woman with the soul of an angel…. are you listening?

  9. Reblogged this on Invisible Horse and commented:
    Every once in a while I come across a post on WordPress that is so exceptional that I immediately want to share it with as many people as I can, and this is one of the best. I find it hard to express how profoundly these words touched me, evoked memories, awakened my senses, and made me feel good to be alive.
    I am so grateful to Zen Doe for this beautiful, sensitive, heart-stopping piece of writing and for her generosity in sharing it so open-heartedly with all of us.

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