Jeffrey Dupra: If we listened, what would we hear?
If we listened to the earth what would we hear? As a culture we have bad habits; we see ourselves as apart, as above, as beyond the world. We don’t listen to nature.
What is more, we have forgotten how to listen. When we hear things we don’t like, that do not validate and satisfy our own needs, our own identities, our own narratives, we tune them out.
We feel alone. We are insecure. We don’t have time for the things that we say really matter. Our health fails. Stress seeps in. The pace of everything feels like a race, even silence.
We want desperately to have things that we do not have, and then, when we have acquired them, we are satiated for a mere moment before we begin again, to compare ourselves and our things to others, people, things, and the inadequacy, the insecurity, begins again.
We stare at screens at the expense of what surrounds them; the world. Nature. Ourselves. We know that we should stop; staring at screens, racing, indulging, deflecting, hiding, but we do not. The truth about the present moment is unflinching; it is not a Buddhist mantra drawn lovingly in the sand. It is a rough diamond; harder than everything else around it. We seek relief in the source of our maladies; we stare at screens, we strip mine reality for distraction, we tell ourselves what we want to hear, we talk to people who confirm what we think, we continue to feel alone.
What if we listened to the earth? What if we listened to ourselves? Can you imagine a way that these two questions are the same thing?
In Nepal, a line winds its way down from the summit if the highest mountain on earth. Like people waiting in any line on earth, they are impatient, they jostle, they elbow, they curse under and above their breath, which comes short and shallow in the absence of oxygen. They wait because they want something, not because they have anything to offer. They are waiting to stand for a few minutes on top. To take a picture. To plant a flag. To make some money. The metaphor, like the moment, is magnificent.
Every spring in Nepal a window opens briefly. Hundreds pay dearly to pour through and reach for the top. Before them is the crown of earth, the highest jewel, the biggest trophy; behind them is their trash, likewise in mountains. Every spring in Nepal the mountains speak clearly to the climbers clinging to their breast. And those who do listen pay ultimately with their lives.
Back up. Wait. The human heart is wild and strong. It is built for adventure, to be tested, to be worn out in the pursuit of excellence. George Mallory’s famous response to the question, “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” “Because it’s there” is today as it was then; shocking, simple, profound. I am not saying to stay on the ground, to play it safe, to cease to strive, seek, or climb. But I do wonder — as it begs for wonder — just because we can does it also mean that we should? Just because we want, does that mean that we also need?
If we were to listen to the earth it seems to be saying a few things loudly. Climb yourself first; there is nothing up here that you need, only things that you want. The strength to climb is equally matched with the humility to not. If we come here only to take, to trash and to claim, to give nothing in return, then the mountain will put our lives on the table and deal the cards.
We are not apart, above, or beyond anything. The snow on the summit is the same as the hair on our heads, the dust of our bones. Before we can hear things that we need to hear, we need to remember how to listen. When we remember how and then in turn can commit ourselves to this great listening, the great adventure is to live true to what we hear.
Stop, Wait. Let’s not get too sweet here. Start again. Do we stare or the screen? Put it down. Walk away. Find something that’s not human and ask it things you need to know. In Nepal the mountain which looks down at earth looks up at everything else.
The summit of one is at the feet of the other. Listen.
Jeffrey Dupra lives in Nevada City.
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