I’m so sleepy this morning, so drowsy and cosy, so reluctant to leave the warm envelope of this bed. I slide in and out of sleep, and the clock keeps leaping forward.
There’s something I wanted to remember before getting up. Not just the breath, but something else. Intention. I have an intention, I know I do, like a New Year’s resolution but gentler, not something to succeed or fail at, just something to explore. I slide back under.
Maybe I’ll stay awake if I open my eyes. But my lids are like sandstone slabs, stuck and gritty and heavy. I crack them open and the light blasts in. I let them fall, and sink into foggy black and dull red, into hazy bands and inky pools.
There’s movement at one edge, not seen but felt, repetitive, insistent, the activity of trying to remember, as if my little terrier is in there, digging; the wide stance of the planted back legs, the flurry of front legs, flinging soil across the patio.
Maybe I’ll remember if I don’t try so hard. If I don’t think about it. If I follow the breath instead. Maybe if I rest my hands on my tummy, to feel the rise and fall of it, the way I might scoop up the terrier and steady her on my lap.
That word, ‘intention’. There’s something there, seen or sensed, at first just a different density of fog, then something more, like when a darker bit approaches and reveals itself as a tree or a gate, or a whiter bit turns into an egret. More like an egret, already gathering itself, ready to fly.
The clock starts ticking. Every second heard. My heartbeat playing off it. And then the seaside sound of gulls. And a woodpigeon crooning, on and on. A starling, whistling and sliding like a slide whistle, and a burst of jackdaws past the window. The whole glorious racket.
‘Listening.’ I have it. Or rather, I have the word. Almost nothing else. Not what it means or why I chose it.
‘Listening with the heart. Listening with the body. Listening to what’s beneath the words.’
I must have read or heard these phrases somewhere, but what do they even mean, and how would I do those things? There are reasons I don’t listen, I know that. And ways to help me stay, though I can’t remember what. Listening to myself or to another. The way I do one, with impatience, or with close and caring attention, will be the way I do the other.
This word is huge. I’d need a lifetime. Or a moment. Like right now, when I’m still half-asleep, and it seems enough just to remember what day it is, and to wonder who I will meet.
For to listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear. – Mark Nepo