Sympathy and the Power of Listening: Late Summer and the Earth Element

“The quieter you become the more you are able to hear.” Rumi

Think about the ear. What a remarkable phenomenon. The contour of the ear invites receptivity. The sound follows a curving path until it slips into the ear canal and resonates with the ear drum. Next, we distinguish and make sense of sounds. To listen is to receive.

As summer winds into late summer, cricket sounds intensify. Birds swoop after insects with abandon. Today, a squirrel jumped aside with a green nut as I bounced out my front door. To stop and observe these phenomena, to listen to the unique sounds is to take in the the essence of late summer.

Lush fruit in piles and mature vegetables mark a visual display of this season of abundance. How to digest and absorb it all? Digestion within the body requires receptivity and coordination of functions. The ability to digest and absorb extends to the emotional realm and to the spiritual. This all begins with listening and receiving.

Sympathy comes from the Greek “sym,” meaning together, and “pathos,” feeling. It means to feel with another. This emotion is associated with the season of late summer, sometimes called Indian summer. In late summer we take in the abundance that comes from nature. 

To listen with the ears is one kind of listening. To listen and receive with the heart or intuition is another. To receive in this way we must cultivate our ability to be still within. The eardrum must go back to stillness momentarily in order to hear. We must cultivate inner stillness to receive from the heart. Otherwise, the message may be garbled.

Recently I sat with a friend and shared about the time that my mother died a few years ago. My friend tipped her head slightly to the side and gazed at me with patient, quiet eyes. She took me in. Momentarily I found myself pulling back to move on, but something made me pause. When I did I felt the sympathy in her glance. So simple. So kind. I was able to absorb the momentary offering and feel changed by it.

For sympathy to be in balance, a person must lean in towards another person without being overly solicitous. The door is shut when we are unsympathetic or insensitive. 

When I was pumping gas the other day, I was distracted by an ad on a little screen by the pump. How jarring! A barrage of visual and sound stimulation can cause us to shut down our capacity to receive. All the more reason to find quiet time within or in nature to allow a return to listening. 

All the more reason to find time with other people to listen to our musings and share our stories. For years now I invite folks to mark the changing season by coming together to reflect, write and share. We contemplate the qualities of the associated element in Chinese medicine. Each season and element has a specific related emotion. We focus on that emotion,  share the images that arise within us and tell stories. This exercise within the season itself allows us to move into harmony with the element and it’s season.

Sympathy—sym, "together" and pathos, "feeling" is the dynamic emotion of late summer that reveals itself when we activate true listening. Quiet stillness invites receptivity. Sympathy relates intimately to the power of listening.  

“We are fascinated by words but where we meet is in the silence behind them.” Rumi