Listening to Life

People do not notice nor give value to those things that are always available or always around them all the time — air to breathe, solid ground beneath their feet, the local culture, being alive, the support of a loved one — until those things are taken away from them, or seriously threatened to be taken away from them. It is paradoxical: anything that is omnipresent tends to escape our notice. Consequently, we fail to appreciate it.

Many species of fish and other aquatic animals are born, live their lifetimes and die immersed in the water all the time; and so I believe they do not notice the water. Dolphins, which can jump out of the water momentarily, have experienced being out of the water; and so I believe dolphins do notice the water. Spinning dolphins even delightfully and playfully shoot up into the air spinning, and splash back into the water. They do it again and again, in apparent glee and enjoyment.


When I was a young man I dated girls at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Laguna province in the Philippines. The first time I visited IRRI facilities, I was struck by the beautiful scenic view of the green rice fields, the rows of coconut trees and thatched huts in the distance, the blue-green mountains nearby and the bluer mountains afar. I blurted a remark to one of the girls about the marvellous scenery surrounding them. She said, “Oh, we do not notice them anymore.”

We are immersed in life and its repeating patterns so often and so much that we have stopped noticing life.

People who had looked at Death face-to-face — for example, people who survived a life-threatening illness, or an accident that was fatal for many companions, or any event where they thought they would die — are people who afterwards better saw how precious Life is and who thereafter lived Life more fully. Like young children, they listened, experienced and savored life more intensely. I know, because I survived an illness that threatened my life for nearly four years.

Take your local or national culture. You grew up within it. It is around you all the time. You never even knew what it consists of — until you leave your town or your country and travel to another culture. It is when you are outside your culture and you are confronted with an alien, strange or different culture that you begin to be aware of your own culture!

Nearly two decades ago, I studied an indigenous local spiritual culture. They have a daily practice that they taught me. It is called “pagbabasa ng Buhay na Aklat” or “reading the Living Book.” By “Living Book” they refer to your own life and daily personal experiences. It consists of closely observing, and internally and externally listening to the micro and macro events in your personal life in order to discern patterns, movements and cues as to where Life is taking you as well as where you want Life to take you. They call one’s life the “Living Book” because they believe that God communicates and interacts with every person through numerous micro and macro events in his or her life. In other words, your life experiences constitute your own “Living Scripture” that you have to “read”. “Reading the Living Book” is a practice of passively listening to Life, as well as actively engaging Life. It is a beautiful practice.

Using knowledge management language, “Reading the Living Book” is sensing of tacit individual knowledge, while reading a religious scripture (whether Christian, Muslim, Judaic, etc.) is reading explicit group knowledge. The first is personalized and private, compared to the latter which is common and public.

Early Christians, and modern-day Pentecostal Christians, use the Greek word “rhema” to refer to direct, tacit, personal experience or communication from the Holy Spirit, in contrast to “logos” which is the written, explicit record of that experience. Unfortunately, when the Bible was translated from Greek to English, both “rhema” and “logos” became the “Word” thereby losing the important distinction between direct, tacit, personalized sensing (“rhema”) and the indirect, explicit, public record (“logos”). This shift is one of the reasons why, in my analysis, Christianity lost the virtues in the indigo quadrant (see the diagrams in my previous blog post “Evolving Forms of Governance”): it shifted from rule by the many and inner disciplines of the early Christians during Pentecost, to rule by the few and canon law/doctrinal controls in the modern Vatican-managed Catholicism and various Protestant congregations. Please note that Protestantism is closer to the indigo quadrant than Catholicism.

A similar distinction occurred in the development of Islam: today there is a distinction between various practices of tacit discernment of Allah’s will (maarifah, haqiqah and tariqah) and the more common reliance on explicit or written laws (Shariah) and the Koran.

The KM distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge is an excellent framework for better understanding these distinctions: one is contextual personal knowledge and the other is generic second-hand knowledge. KM also helps us see that there are losses accompanying conversion from tacit to explicit knowledge.

Abraham, the forefather of all Jews, Christians and Muslims, did not have any scripture to rely on (fortunately!). So he used direct tacit means to listen to God. He listened very well, even if he could not at first believe what he heard. Most modern-day Jews, Christians and Muslim rely on their different scriptures (unfortunately!) and their different mental models and judgments are now leading them to misunderstand, hate and even kill one another. Watching all his children now, Abraham must be an exceedingly unhappy soul.


In 1995-1997 I led a team of experts in Filipino culture and indigenous spiritualities in designing, testing and piloting a Pamathalaan Workshop under former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos. Pamathalaan, according to President Ramos, is “pamamahala kasama ni Bathala” or God-centered governance. One of the experimental workshop modules was a form of listening to Life patterned after the indigenous practice of “reading the Living Book”. It is an inter-faith process of consensual discernment. If God is omnipresent, then our tendency is to fail to notice Him (or Her). The water sustains the fish, but the fish never notices the water. The process is therefore a conscious practice of noticing and listening to God or to Life (is there really any distinction between God and Life?) all around us every day or moment of our life.

In 1997, I was browsing in a bookstore in San Francisco when I chanced (perhaps it was not “chance”) reading the following excerpt from the back cover of a book. The excerpt “jumped out” and I knew it was another corroboration of the Pamathalaan Workshop. I bought this book and all subsequent books by its author, Neale Donald Walsh. Neale “wrote” these books through the process of “automatic writing” (whereby the author’s hand holding a pen or pencil involuntarily moves and writes, or without the conscious control of the person). The title of the book is “Conversations with God: an Uncommon Dialogue, Book 1.”

    “So go ahead now. Ask Me anything. Anything. I will contrive to bring you the answer. The whole universe will I use to do this. So be on the lookout; this book is far from My only tool. You may ask a question, then put this book down. But watch.


    “The words to the next song you hear. The information in the next article you read. The story line of the next movie you watch. The chance utterance of the next person you meet. Or the whisper of the next river, the next ocean, the next breeze that caresses your ear — all these devices are Mine; all these avenues are open to Me. I will speak to you if you will listen. I will come to you if you will invite Me. I will show you then that I have always been there.

    “All ways.”

Put this blog down (it is second-hand knowledge) and start gaining your own first-hand knowledge. Start listening to Life.

Note that there are embedded links in this blog post. They show up as colored text. While pressing “Ctrl” click on any link to create a new tab to reach the webpages pointed to. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the use of the images in this blog post.

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One Response to “Listening to Life”

  1. Posts about Holy Spirit as of August 5, 2009 | PRAYtheREVOLUTION Says:

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