The World in Us

Posted on Mar 4, 2015

Many of us urban meditators long to take to our cushions in a quiet place. This in fact was one of the inspirations for a yoga and meditation retreat that my friend Linda Sparrowe and I recently led in the rainforest of Costa Rica.

On the first day as we were chatting with Tom Newmark, the founder of Finca Luna Nueva, the bio-sustainable farm and research center to which we had brought our group, he mentioned that his greatest difficulty with the city was it was too darn quiet! “You’ll see,” he smiled raising his eyebrows; “it is noisy here, very noisy.”

Of course, what gets in the way of meditation practice, and what gets in the way of so much of experience, is not the noise outside, but the cacophony within our heads. Our longing, I think, is actually for an internal quiet; a state of mind that is steady, open-hearted and receptive, not reactive.

As the beloved teacher Ram Dass says:

The quieter you become, the more you can hear.

While hearing is, we know, one of our senses, and some of us have greater acuity than others, Ram Dass, I believe, is talking about listening, and not just with our ears.    For most of us, whether in conversation, at a concert, or engaging our own minds and bodies, this ability to listen with our whole being is elusive.  In fact, if we look around, at work and at home, in the political sphere and on the street, we seem as a culture to be experiencing a crisis of listening. No wonder there is a proliferation of new classes on the subject in the business, medical and therapeutic fields.

Personally, I know of no better way to cultivate the skill of full-spectrum listening than in the yoga studio. As someone who has worked for 20 years as an oral historian, this statement is not made lightly. In fact, I would say that deepening my ability to listen has been one of yoga’s greatest and most surprising gifts to date!  The practice is my mobile laboratory.  It is clear that when I find quiet, and listen to what each pose has to tell me, the experience is vast and enlivening rather than potentially frustrating and filled with judgement.

 So building attention, receptivity and empathy, the fundamental factors of listening—this has become my yoga practice.  These qualities are what I attempt to teach, and what I hope that the students might take with them off the mat.

Linda and I worked all week to explore these qualities, within the group and within ourselves.  And in the last days of the retreat, I think we all felt how the steadiness had begun to take root and open us toward, as Joseph Campbell says, “the rapture of being alive.”  In the increasingly frequent moments that we were not deafened by the shifting thoughts inside our heads, we all seemed more present to the layers of our experience.

On the last morning at Finca Luna, I finally began to hear how incredibly loud the rainforest is. Not the noise of cars and construction, but the biological drama of life.

And I heard it in every cell of my body.

As we sat in meditation, a shimmering, and indeed a noisy world reveals itself. Steady and open in all the fields of attention, I am offered gift after gift—soft air, the smell of rain-drenched soil warming in the sun, every shade of green, a bird singing, and then another, and another and another. Behind them, a backdrop of whirring insects, the brushing percussion of leaves in the wind, the energetic presence of my fellow meditators, the occasional shifts in our postures, the softening of our hearts.

Us in the sound, and the sound in us

 Us in the world, and the world in us

(Brigid Lowry)



  1. What a treat to read this as I set out for my retreat tomorrow. Thank you, Captain. Xo Ann

    Sent on the fly…


  2. really beautifully expressed Susan!

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