I didn't take my camera with me on my latest Wednesday retreat. It was a greyish day, and I wanted to walk unencumbered though I wasn't sure where I would go, at first. None of my usual spots seemed to draw me, and I realised I didn't really want to get in the car to drive anywhere. So I just started from our place in Bruce, and thought I'd walk into the bushland behind the Institute of Sport and the Bruce Stadium. In the end, I went further than I'd planned - or perhaps it's more accurate to say that the distance was shorter than I'd imagined - and I ended up walking right through Bruce/O'Connor Ridge to Dryandra St, in O'Connor.
Without the camera, I was less focused on looking and seeing, and became more aware of what I was hearing. When I first became more fully aware of the soundscape of the bush around me, I realised how little I had been hearing up till then. Thoughts really can be 'clamorous'. And just as with seeing - the more we look, the more we see - so with hearing. The more I listened, the more birds I heard - and they were everywhere this grey morning. Red wattle birds, magpies, grass parrots, choughs - and then, as I became more attuned, there were areas that seemed densely populated by tiny wrens, red-headed finches of some kind, other small birds - maybe silver-eyes or honey-eaters, fantails and willy-wagtails. Twittering and chirping, whole colonies of them feasting on the cassinia bushes and among the trees.
Metaphors of sight are pervasive in contemplative spirituality - and the word 'contemplation' means something like looking at, gazing upon. But it does seem possible to 'look upon' and still maintain your own interior commentary. That seems harder to do with listening. If I'm really listening, it's as if I have to cease my inner monologue. I really do have to become silent, to become hospitable to the voice of the other. It's a space-making practice. So it makes sense that when we meditate, we are instructed to 'listen to the mantra', to 'sound it'. When I'm listening like that, I'm less full of myself. And somehow that always feels renewing, healing, cleansing.
So though this photo was taken on an earlier walk, near Pine Island, let this little bird represent the soundscape of my Bruce Ridge walk and my lesson in listening, on a grey autumn morning!