The dog with the ear-buds, eyes closed, in seeming ecstasy, absolutely stopped me in my tracks. It was a picture on the cover of a journal (Heaven only knows I don’t need more journals—I have beautiful ones already, and I produce journals for other people). I was on a mission getting ready for a program this coming week, cruising through Staples with a list of office supplies in my hand. The dog with the ear-buds was not on the list. I couldn’t leave the store without the picture of that dog, eyes closed, completely engrossed in listening. I brought the journal home and stood it up on the book shelf by my computer. So I could see the dog. And began to muse about why I couldn’t come home without the picture. At this stage in my life I don’t even own a dog—except that one.
First the picture was somehow humorous, the kind of humor that comes from the unexpected, but an unexpected in which we see our own human condition. And photo-shopped or not, it spoke to me about being connected with all of life.
Exactly what is the dog listening to? There’s a question. My immediate answer was “music.” “Beautiful music.” Classical music. Or love songs. Then I realized it must be whatever kind of music that the dog thinks is beautiful. But then she could be listening to her master’s voice on a recording, and it’s the relationship that has her so happy. Or maybe she is listening to the barking message of a friend. Or perhaps she loves good poetry and it’s one of her favorite poets reading poetry. Or if she loves chasing rabbits, perhaps it’s the sound of the rabbits running through tall grass. But it’s the joy, and the deep listening in that picture that has held my attention.
Some reasons, why, perhaps:
- Last month I spent several days with a group of creative artists in a leadership program for community arts leaders. Each an artist in their own right, they now lead efforts to bring the experience of artistry, to a wide range of their community—from pre-schoolers to elders, from those with a love of the arts to those who are experimenting with them for the first time. From classical arts to emerging art forms. We explored how the art itself—music, or theater, or in my case poetry—provides us with a particular wisdom for our lives, for our leadership. The last night of our work together, I went to bed fairly early and fell asleep to the sound of the group, one floor below, circled around the piano singing old show tunes and love songs. I think I must have had the same expression on my face that the dog does.
- The intensity of listening itself is riveting. The quality of the dog’s listening strikes me. When we listen, really listen, to another, to a story, to music---when we let ourselves take in what another says—and simply absorb it, let it nourish us or startle us or change our minds, it changes the world for us. Those are the lessons of dialogue, of the story of the “cone in the box” of what it means to allow another to influence our thinking. Sometimes when I am listening to something someone is saying in a dialogue circle, I find I need to close my eyes so that I can take it completely in, so I am not distracted by what my eyes are taking in. Just the listening, the tone, the pace, the words. I must look like the dog does.
- Then finally, this comic picture of the pup with the ear-buds reminds me of the message of a book that colleagues and I are working on, a book that traces the link between spirituality and sustainability—that helps us see how certain practices (music, journal, meditation, being in nature) strengthen our connection with ourselves, with others, with all forms of life on earth. And with that sense of connection comes a deeper caring and stewardship. And with that we open the door to the possibility that humans and all other forms of life could live together on the earth forever. That’s a very short description of a book that has taken nine of us 18 months and over two hundred pages of poetry and prose to complete, or almost complete. Music is one form of practice that helps us experience the connection with the divine, with each other, with the earth (why else Vivaldi’s Four Seasons?) Humans and all species. All of life. And all of of the earth. I suspect the dog understands that.
Wishing you the wisdom to acknowledge your own art form, and the spaciousness to listen as intensely as the pup is listening.