Listen Up!

Wade in KLN City

Our home in Kowloon City, Hong Kong – 1997

— Andy Wade —

What does it mean to listen, to really listen so that you hear and understand? Julian Treasure, in the TED video below, outlines five ways to listen better.

Several years ago while living in Hong Kong I began exploring our modern idea of spiritual retreat. It dawned on me that we almost always take these retreats out of the city, a kind of going into the wilderness. Although I really enjoy wilderness retreats, several things bothered me about this:

  • It’s a luxury many don’t have
  • While it takes us out of our normal element so we can better focus, it doesn’t teach us how to become spiritually balanced within our normal context.
  • Going into the wilderness in the Bible, and as seen by the early monks and nuns, was not a retreat but going out to do battle with the devil, often on behalf of the church.
  • It can become a form of escapism where we leave behind our issues to be “spiritual” for a time, reinforcing a kind of sacred/secular dualism all too common in the church today.

What would it mean, I wondered, to retreat in the city?

As a small-town boy living in a city of seven million, I was often overwhelmed by all the noise, both auditory and visual. This constant assault on my senses dulled my ability to listen. When I would walk into one of Hong Kong’s many five-story malls my eyes would kind of glaze over and I’d go about my business on auto-pilot. How could I enter a space where I could listen, really hear, in the city? This is just one part of what it means to learn to retreat in the city.

Reflecting on this video I also realized that our imagination and creativity are also often ravaged by the constant onslaught of noise in our lives. Implementing the five steps outlined by Treasure can begin address both the spiritual and creative numbing that happens when we’re constantly surrounded by noise.