Excerpts from LISTENING OUTSIDE LISTENING INSIDE       

   

Getting Run Over By Bicycles

By Ferida Wolff

 

"Be careful crossing the street," said my mother. "Are you listening to me?"

I was listening but I guess it was hard to tell. My body was jiggling up and down, impatient to go. My eyes were anywhere but directed toward my mother's face. I was fiddling with the coins in my pocket, the ones that would bring me the delight of a vanilla fudge ice cream cone with chocolate sprinkles. Besides, I was nine years old and perfectly able to take care of myself.

I ran down the front steps, saw my friends on the other side of the street, and after a quick glance around for cars, charged across. I was promptly run over by a bicycle. I returned to consciousness on the black pavement, lying in a circle of staring, frightened faces. I didn't know what had happened. When one of my friends told me, I cried, not because I was hurt but from the shock of it.

My mother sped from our house, white-faced and calling my name. She helped me up, carefully checking for broken bones. Together we hobbled home. She applied a cool washcloth to my forehead and let me rest in the sunlit living room on the company sofa. The bruises that were sprouting on my legs would soon turn an ugly purple-green and a lecture was sure to come later but I felt like a hero now. I had been run over and lived!

It was not the last time I would feel both the panic and relief of a narrow escape but it was the first time I was aware that something more was going on besides my ignoring my mother's words and getting instantly caught. I had heard what she said but had I really listened? Did it sink in? Might I have avoided a painful bruising by paying attention?

I had begun listening, although in a backdoor kind of way. Most of my listening was done in hindsight, recognizing, after the fact, that I was being told something. It might have come from a stranger, a friend, a feeling, a voice inside that sounded like mine but knew something I didn't.

I read books, attended workshops, joined organizations. I put myself in situations that could nurture learning but I didn't necessarily learn. The problem was that I did not always receive what I was hearing. If it came into conflict with what I wanted to do, I declared it nonsense. I continued to symbolically throw myself in front of bicycles.

Years later, in the middle of an argument with my husband, I was suddenly aware of the dynamics that were occurring. I was really listening. I had heard all this before. I would try to get him to admit he was wrong and I was right. He would yell louder. I'd get quieter. He would storm, I would fume. No one ever won. He'd feel wronged while I would carry the hurt and emotional bruises with me that were ever bit as painful as that long ago bicycle encounter. It was a familiar pattern. It could continue to do it this way or choose another path.

So instead of a blaming session, I smiled. We each wanted something. We could talk about how we could both win. I avoided being run over. It was a nice change.

As I became aware of more patterns, I was run over by fewer bicycles. It made life a lot easier.

I thought it would be a momentous revelation when I realized I could avoid a collision but it wasn't. It was as easy as floating downstream instead of swimming against the rushing water.

It was as calming as swinging in a hammock.

As pleasing as a sunrise.

As natural as breathing.

Simple as a smile.

 

from LISTENING OUTSIDE LISTENING INSIDE by Ferida Wolff  

Available through Amazon.com

 

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Understanding

By Ferida Wolff

 

I love the cartoon graphic of the lightbulb going on overhead when the character gets an idea. It seems so simple an inner switch is flicked and understanding shines out. I wish I had a switch like that, one I could control. I need the solution to a problem? Flick, I have it! I'm confused about making a decision? Flick, the direction is clear. The answers to life's big questions elude me? Flick, not any more.

Opportunities for understanding are all around, yet I notice that much of the time my switch is turned off. I am blinded by what I expect to see. I look for a book in my bookcase that I am sure has a blue cover with red lettering and cannot find it even though I check and recheck the shelves. Did I lend it to someone? I wonder. As soon as I stop looking, the title pops out at me in the exact place I knew it would be, only the book has blue writing on a white background. By focusing on my pre-conceptions, I eliminate all possibilities but the one I expect and set myself up for failure.

As I search for truth, I sometime find myself doing the same thing. My idea of where it is to be found is so consuming, that I lose the peripheral vision that would help illuminate my quest. When I'm being particularly structured, a fog settles on my brain so that all new ideas are blocked. It becomes obvious then, that I need to back off, to relax my chokehold on truth as I know it or want it to be. I suggest to myself that I now see all possibilities clearly and that the solution I seek is within my understanding. Then I give myself permission to receive the knowledge. It seems to open the energy channels that eventually lead to the lightbulb, although I am usually surprised by the form it takes. The creative spirit is always brighter and more inventive than I anticipate.

For me, understanding mostly comes as a process. Whether I think about the topic at hand actively or go into receiver mode in meditation, I need to mull things over. Sometimes it feels plodding, like the seemingly endless stirring of the pudding until it thickens.

What I really seek is enlightenment, that shift from not knowing to knowing regardless of what is to be known. It is the instant of understanding before anything can be formed into words. It is the exhilaration of experiencing knowing on all levels with nothing apart, nothing separate.

And, once again, I see that I need to release a prior notion, that cherished cartoon image, for enlightenment is not the lightbulb but the switch.

 

from LISTENING OUTSIDE LISTENING INSIDE by Ferida Wolff  

Available through Amazon.com

 

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Bela the Bat

By Ferida Wolff

My husband found a bat on our back doorstep. It was a wide-winged, brown-haired, full-bodied bat. It hung onto the doorframe with its bat fingers and whenever we went too near, it made a bat hiss that sounded like a cross between a cicada and a snake. Its face was human-like, with eyes that followed our every movement.

It was easy to understand why the bat was associated with evil. There was Count Dracula daring us to come closer. We did. Step. Hissss. We backed away. Even though we were many times its size, that bat intimidated us.

We started calling the bat Bela Lugosi. It would not have surprised us if it suddenly turned into the vampire of our childhood horror films. I was glad our children were away grownups with creeps were difficult, but spooked kids would be impossible.

We phoned the local nature center for advice on how to proceed. The naturalist said that bats don't usually fly out in bright sunlight or come too near people so the bat was probably sick. It might fly away or it might die.

Could someone take it away? Not on Sunday. We should call back tomorrow. Was there something we could do in the meantime? It was best not to touch it; it could have rabies.

We firmly bolted the door and tried to ignore our unbidden guest, but every couple of minutes one of us invented a reason to go around back to peek at it. We returned with reports.

"Bela isn't acting right," I said.

"What's right for a bat?" said Michael.

"How should I know? He just doesn't look right."

"His wings are droopy."

"He isn't hanging on any more. He's just lying there."

"I think he's dying.

"Should I poke him to see if he moves?"

"Leave him alone. Any creature has the right to die with dignity."

Before going to sleep, we peered down at him from our bedroom window, focusing a flashlight's beam on the limp body.

"Should we leave a light on for him?" I asked. "The kids always like to have a light on when they're sick."

"Don't be silly. Bats like the dark."

We checked on Bela first thing in the morning, hoping he had flown off into his natural nighttime environment. He was there, a hairy, still offering at our door.

"He's gone," Michael said.

"I know."

For some reason, there was a catch in my voice. I scooped up Bela with a garden trowel while Michael dug a hole in our backyard cemetery where the deceased fish, gerbils, hamsters, and parakeets of a lifetime of pet-keeping rested. Now I wished the kids were home; from practice, they knew how to put on a good funeral.

"Go in peace, Bela," I said to our bat.

I picked up a handful of dirt and scattered it over his body. We finished burying him and walked toward the house. The back entrance was usable again, bat free and back to normal.

Only not quite.

I reached for the comfort of Michael's hand.

"Something doesn't feel right," I said.

"What's right for a doorstep?" Michael asked.

"I don't know. Something is missing. There's an emptiness."

We looked briefly at where Bela had lain, then stepped respectfully over the threshold.

 

from LISTENING OUTSIDE LISTENING INSIDE by Ferida Wolff  

Available through Amazon.com

 

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