Have You Stopped
to Listen Today?
tom walsh


This is a question that I don't like asking myself often, for usually the answer is "no."  And while I don't usually get angry with myself over things--I know it's worthless to do so and it accomplishes nothing--I also know that stopping and listening to the world is one of the most important things that I can do if I'm to be a happy person, or if I'm to be able to help others to reach some sort of happiness in their lives.

There are times when we stop.  Those times are the most refreshing, most invigorating times of all for me, yet they don't happen frequently enough.  Too often, I get caught up in the hectic pace of what I have to do, and I find it difficult to pull myself out of the hurry and the stress and shift my focus.  I find it hard to slow down and realize, "Wait, I can decide just how drastic or important this really is to me.  The world isn't going to end if I change my speed a bit and take myself out of the picture for an hour or two."

One of the most stressful jobs I ever had was one of the easiest--I worked as a housekeeper (maid) at an Army hotel in Munich.  The Munich American Guest House no longer exists, but back when I worked there, it was the center of my world, as it was an important source of income and it gave me a place to live while I was in Germany.  But the stress there was awful--the leadership was convinced that the best way to motivate people was to threaten to fire them, and we were constantly reminded just how quickly we could be let go.  And since we were in Germany, it wasn't like there were tons of other jobs that we could get if we did get fired.

Add to that an atmosphere of gossiping and back-stabbing, and you get a place that could make you crazy, that could make life very unpleasant, that could make you dread going to work.

I worked there a good seven months before something happened that was very simple, yet very profound.  I took a couple of days off, and I went skiing in the Alps with the family of a friend.  And I got hurt after only about ten minutes on the slopes (I had never skied before).  My friends were good at teaching me how to ski, but they didn't teach me how to stop if I got going too fast--they told me what I should have done after the fact.

It hurt a lot, but the next day was very important--it snowed and we stayed indoors, watching the huge flakes come down, enjoying the silence and the beauty of the moment.  It was during that snowfall that I realized just how stressed-out the job had me, and just how much I was letting it stress me out by putting the amount of importance on it that I was.

Yes, the job was important--earning our way through life is important to all of us.  But I was letting it control me, letting it consume me, and that wasn't healthy at all.  I watched the snow come down and realized that was important--the beauty of life all around me, the beauty of stillness and peace and quiet.  And I could have those things even if I kept the job--I could get by fine if I didn't let the job take over my perspective and become my major focal point.

I love the saying that I work to live, and I don't live to work.  The saying illustrates very well the problems that I had with the job I was doing.  But after that day in Murnau when I felt the peace of life while watching a heavy yet gentle snowfall, the job was no longer a burden, for I no longer allowed it to be the focal point of my life.  I still did my job well--even better, in fact--but I didn't lose sight of the much bigger picture that we're all a part of.  I still faced stress and I still had to listen to the gossip and the threats and the subtle innuendoes that are so often a part of such a work place, but I didn't let them bother me.

I've had consuming jobs since--I spent four years in the Army later, and it's the very nature of the Army to consume its people.  And while I have lost focus for very short periods of time, I always remember the job at MAGH and the beautiful snowy day, and that memory provides me with the ability to see clearly once again.

So stop and listen, and hear what life is trying to tell you.  Hear the silence that's available to you--feel the peace that's such an integral part of this beautiful world in which we live.  Hear the breeze that's blowing outside, and pay attention to the birds that are singing--really pay attention.  Hear them; listen to them.  Hear your spouse or your parent or your child or your friend--hear what they have to say, and recognize the fact that they're fellow-travelers with you on this planet, just trying to do their best.  And try not to let things consume you so much that you're blind and deaf to the beauty of our world.


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