By Vu Nguyen
What Sets Us Apart
Whether or not you believe in the science of evolution, you have to acknowledge that, as a people, we have truly come a long, long, way since the time of our ancestors. We don’t have to look far back in history for proof of advancement; the cars we drive and the phones we use are evidence that we’ve come so far in just a single generation. This is made possible by rationalization and abstract thought. Ultimately, having the ability to rationalize and think abstractly is what sets us apart from the animals that share the planet with us. How powerful is that? The ability to absorb and manipulate information is a gift that we were born with.
However, the same ability that makes us different from animals is ultimately what makes us different from each other. For some, this ability is what helps them excel and propel their way through life. For others, this ability is a true burden. Why? It all begins with our intrinsic ability to “listen”.
Your Output is as Good as Your Input
Think about a simple mathematical equation – the variables on the left dictate the result on the right. Therefore, it is difficult to balance the two sides of the equation when the variables on the left aren’t rational.
Our ability to listen is what generates life’s essential variables. I’m not necessarily talking about verbal conversation – that’s a part of it – I’m talking about having the awareness that the world around you is always communicating with you and then having the wherewithal to listen.
This type of listening requires not only your ears, but also your eyes, your hands, your mind, and your heart. This type of listening requires you to shut your mouth and shut out all of the unnecessary noise in your life and truly embrace everything around you. From the people to the structures. From the sounds to the smells.
But, to do this, you must acknowledge that there is, in fact, a world around you. One that extends far and beyond your immediate radius. One that is much bigger than the problems that you consume yourself with on a daily basis.
Listening… When Did We Stop?
What is my motivation behind writing this? I write this out of fear and sadness. I am afraid and saddened by what I see around me every single day. The more and more that we advance, the more and more we become defined as a people. But, it seems like the more and more we become defined as a people, the more and more we become less defined as individuals.
From what I’ve experienced working with others, those of us who truly know who we are, what we want, and what we’re passionate about, now represent a relative few. The rest of us are stuck in a habitual state of displeasure, discomfort, and unease, living day-to-day according to rules and laws governed by society. Perhaps, since birth, we’ve been groomed to think this way – we certainly aren’t this way by design. As children, we were all as mighty and courageous as our creativity allowed us to be.
What changed? If you ask me, we simply stopped listening. Listening to what? I can’t answer that. Only you can. Perhaps it’s listening to your body when it gives you subtle hints that it needs rest. Or perhaps it’s listening to your heart when it’s telling you to pull the trigger and quit your day job so that you can pursue your passion.
Whatever it is, by failing to listen, the only person you’re really selling short is yourself. By failing to listen, you are suppressing your potential. Sometimes, you simply need to shut up and listen!
How Listening Saved Me
I’ll be completely candid. I haven’t always listened. In fact, through my life, I’ve proven to be extremely stubborn and closed-minded. But, some years ago, triggered by a series of unfortunate events, I started listening and came to the realization that something had to change – that something was me. The world told me that, if I didn’t change my ways, things would not end favorably. By listening to my environment and embracing the “not-so-subtle” signs, I concluded that I was not a passenger but the driver of a vehicle that was quickly spinning out of control.
Only by listening was I able to identify and correct the inherent issues. Since then, I’ve been much more open-minded and receptive to the world around me, taking the time to hear and absorb everything that it tells me.
This process will be different for everyone but, if you’re stuck, here are a few things that I do to trigger the process:
- I cut off my connection – Isn’t it ironic? At the click of a few buttons or at the swipe of a few fingers, you have access to the rest of the world but, at the same time, when you’re buried in your cell phone, you lose all connection to the immediate world around you. By shutting off my connection to the world, I have the ability to be present and to connect with the people and things around me.
- I get up real high – Nothing will remind you how minuscule you are much like the majesty of the mountains. When I start to get overwhelmed with my never-ending task list, I make my way to the mountains. Being enveloped by the mountains and it’s vastness gives me great perspective. Everything from the menacing gusts to the falling rocks brings about a tranquility that speaks louder than any amount of words can.
- I practice presence – No matter where I am, if I’m not with anyone else, I practice hyper-awareness. This means noticing and hearing everything. I’m not talking about being nosy or eavesdropping. I’m talking about being extremely present and in the moment.
- I connect with myself – It’s amazing how well we don’t know ourselves but, at the same time, it’s not surprising. We are often so consumed or interested in what everyone else is doing that we ignore or overlook the most important person of all. There’s a difference between being self-absorbed and being self-aware. I’m talking about the latter. My self-awareness is amplified in the 15 minutes a day that I meditate.
- I visit my late grandfather – There are times when the silence of those passed is wiser and more profound than all else. He was and remains to be the biggest inspiration in my life. When I feel lost, I will make it to his place of rest and just… listen.
- I know that this may sound like a hoax or some crazy, dreamt up fantasy. No, the world does not literally talk to you. The trees don’t have eyes or mouths as they do in cartoons. But it isn’t mindless rhetoric either. By now, I hope you understand that you can draw a parallel. When I say “listen”, I mean be aware, conscious, and receptive of the signs and signals that are available to you at every turn of the corner. Believe me, as crazy as it may sound, the more you listen, the more the world talks. And the more you are receptive to what the world has to say, the easier it is to balance the equation that is your life.