Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | February 16, 2010

Listening to God/ Listening to the Tao

I’m going to mix theologies/philosophies a bit here, because listening skill is essential practice in both a Christian life and a taoist life. I’ve written about listening before, and how tai chi helps develop our listening power, both from a martial perspective and in a spiritual way. Sitting in silence, whether in adoration of the Eucharist, or in contemplation of Christ, or in zazen, is a great way to develop one’s listening power.

I’ll throw in at this moment that the etymology of the word obedience is to listen. This is a very Benedictine concept.

So, the first step in learning how to listen, is, very bluntly, to shut the f* up and stop talking. We’ve all been in those conversations where the other person either monopolizes the conversation completely, or, allows you to have your say, but isn’t really listening, and when it’s their turn to speak, it’s not in response to what you’ve said, but a continuation of their own train of thought, or blabber to put it better.

But once we’ve quieted ourselves, and stopped drowning things out with our own thoughts and words, what’s the next step? What are we listening for?

My suggestion here comes out of two experiences, one with a co-worker, and the other from listening to an interview of Michael Steele, the Republican National Party Chairman, who by the way, I didn’t know was a catholic and had spent some time in an Augustinian Monastery. The suggestion is that God speaks to us through things, people, and events, almost as if the voice of God needs to be filtered through the things of this earth that we can actually understand.

The same is true of the tao, or the universe, or the universal mind of God. How can we hear what it is saying to us? What are we listening for? With my co-worker, we were having a heart to heart talk about some personal stuff he was going through, and as I listened, I began to see some of the patterns of anger and argument that my parents went through. I offered him some advice, and as a serious christian, he took what I said to heart and experienced it as God talking through me to him. And this is a great construct for us to practice discernment, to practice listening, to develop wisdom.

It can almost become a game. A believing Christian would not accept that we can look at things “as if” it were God speaking to us, but would believe that it actually is God speaking to us, through the scriptures, through a pastor, through a friend, through an enemy, through a joyous moment, through a terrible tragedy. I’ve often joked that there are times when God needs to give me a good kick in the head sometimes to get my attention, to correct me, to take me down a notch; the shoe box that clipped me in the cheek the other day from the top shelf is a prime example.

From a taoist perspective, the role of synchronicity is key, and the attachment of meaning to synchronous events in a jungian fashion. It is our process of discernment that gives meaning to the things happening around us, to the things being said to us. Someone could say something to us for ten years and we wouldn’t “hear” what they are saying, but then one day, we might attach meaning to their words and then we are listening.

It takes skill to figure it out. What are the mountains and the skies saying to me? What is the point of communication when an animal crosses my path, why do I turn the tv on just at the moment someone is saying something that resonates with me. Why do certain people walk into my life? What message do they carry with them, from God, from the universe, from the wellspring of the collective unconscious, from my own discernment. Even the people who argue with us, who make our day miserable–is there a message from them? Are we listening to what is being said, or do we completely tune them out because of their negativity?

And at what point does the listening become a conversation again? In tai chi, we cannot move until the other person moves. In other words, we cannot speak until spoken to(well we can, but in the context of this post, you get the point). And then, we discern what we’ve listened to and move, act, speak. And this movement, this speaking, become natural, flowing, and wise. It becomes a dance that is spontaneous and free.

As an aside, I have to say listening to political commentators and sportscasters has become so grating to me because they have all accepted an oratorical style that is loud, fast, abusive, and emphatic. Nothing is ever said quietly or thoughtfully. Maybe that’s why I like listening to baseball on the radio. The sportscasters are usually relaxed and enjoying the game, and I enjoy listening to them.

And so, for me, I am more comfortable in the skin of a taoist, discerning and listening and interpreting what is being said to me. As a catholic, it’s a little harder, because trying to discern what God is telling me is more difficult. It takes practice. It takes a lot of silence. And it takes time in discernement. Is God telling me to become a priest or a monk or not? Should I marry this woman or not? Should I take this job or not? Does God even give direction in these areas or does he leave it up to us? Does he give at least a hint or a clue as to what would be better?

What is God saying to you right now at this moment?
What is tghe universe telling you right now at this moment. Take a few minutes and try to discern.


  1. I’m in sales. I find that when I’ve been practicing regularly, I am very good at picking up what’s going on with the people around me. It’s more than just being attuned to their body language.

    Also when I am in practice, I am comfortable with silence, which might seem a little odd for a salesman. If I am comfortable with the little gaps while meeting with a client, I find that they usually are not and have a need to fill those gaps with talking. If I’m quiet enough and just listen, they will tell me exactly how to go about selling them something.

    • Hey Rick,

      Thanks for the comments. Our martial practices very much extend into our daily lives. It’s interesting how it works for you in sales. In some relationships, I need to stop myself from running roughshod over people because I’ve already figured out where the interaction is going. I have to pull back a bit and let them catch up. Just one example…


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