I wrote the first version of this some time ago, for a friend who was getting married. Then I returned to it and re-worked it, because I realised I’d actually written it as a reminder to myself to try to do better…


To the stirrings, the whisperings, the demanding of your heart. Listen for change. Listen for needs. Listen for desires. Listen for the unspoken. Listen for fear.



To the silences, the bellows, the hints, the demands, the pleasures of those you love. Listen for the unexpressed. Listen for change. Listen for the ordinary. Listen for fear.



In the spaces between you and others. Let them expand. Let them contract. Let them be landing places and points of departure. Let them be returns and beginnings. Let them be attended to with care and attention.



On waking. Before sleeping. When tired. When angry. When alone. When in company. With respect. With humour. Without fear.



With the same wonder and stillness you had as a child, when you pressed a shell to your ear to hear the roar of the sea. Let that wonder support you and carry you, far and wide, and always home.


And when you have finished listening…

Take a deep breath.

Then speak.

A note of thanks for the thoughtful comments and reflections that have been left on the last few posts. I am so appreciative that these offerings spark dialogue. My subscriber-village constantly surprises and inspires me. I listen with humility and gratitude.

18 thoughts on “Listening

  1. Ailsa – I am in New York with my wife – every day a blur of monuments of museums and streets and restaurants – of the subway and ferry rides – and walking! We have an apartment in Fort Greene in Brooklyn – a stone’s throw from Lower Manhattan. Amazing – the place (so familiar from reading and film and history and friends) and the sense of being Australian of a certain age and sensitivity here! Now! To-day my wife and I visited the American Museum of Natural History – maybe not exactly a direct response to your reflection – words and photographic images – but I’d like to share some thoughts: (?) So where to start? This museum is vast! It is rich! It blows the mind! And it is unfair that a ticket is valid only for the duration of a visit! Realistically it should be a multiple re-entry (four times)! That’s just to give you some idea that this is a full-day visit – forget about other places – unless an evening event is planned. 10.00 am to 5.45 pm! There are seven shops for souvenirs and four “spaces” for eating! My wife and I were here for five hours – arriving in time to line up for the Planetarium look at the origins and reality of our heavens! Narrated by Whoopi GOLDBERG! Then off to the galleries! Thank goodness for the attendants (one hopes they are well-paid)! Excuse me, where is the: bathroom (sic)/a cafeteria/The Spiders exhibition/the way to whatever – the way out! All replies delivered with a smile: to whatever kind of accent! Heroes! And believe me the site is vast over four floors (and wings)! The Akeley Hall of African Mammals (two levels) and other galleries arranged in the same “diorama” manner are works of artistic genius – meticulous attention to backdrop paintings and to the foreground arrangement of plant/tree replicas and the stuffed animals and birds are truly (I swear) living and breathing just through the glass (is there truly glass there)?!! My without-flash photographs are some of the most beautiful “still-life” photographs I have ever taken! Then, building on yesterday’s visit to the Smithsonian’s Museum of the America Indian – we wandered the galleries of Eastern Woodland Indians and Plains Indians – before the closer to (our) home Margaret MEAD Hall of Pacific Peoples (and Bali)! I studied Anthropology One as a 2nd Year subject at Sydney University in 1967 – her name and observations were significant in that year. There has been some controversy about her in recent years – but what is indisputable is that she led us to see each other – no matter our cultural milieu – as human beings – of like emotional and creative impulses – as brothers and sisters – for which she is to be surely blessed. I have kinfolk who are Indigenous Australian, Maori New Zealanders and a great grand-father born in late 19th century Fiji. My wife and I have good friends in Papua New Guinea who lived years on Manus. Those exhibitions had special pull – of course! And finally we found the Spiders – and excellent attendants with passion for the subject – and their “pets” – especially a young woman introducing us to the bird-eating spiders of Mexico/Chile! And scorpions, too! At a nearby bank after departure at 5.30 I had to share my wonder with the young woman at the door. And again on the train back to Brooklyn – with a couple of women: one from Jamaica (Caribbean) and her friend from Belize – where one of my kinship connections/students (from 25 years ago) now lives – on Caye Caulker! Small world! Kind of! But it is – isn’t it!

    1. Dear Jim,
      Well I can “hear” the excitement in your email. You sound so alive and open to the city and its offerings. I have not been to NYC since 1995, but always loved it so much and can remember similar awe at the museums and the wealth of offerings to the public. So many of them free too.
      But it sounds like you are in that glorious travel-induced state of sensory alertness and awe that can feed us for years. I hope it continues to bring you serendipitous surprises, and opportunities for connection – and for listening to the myriad voices that sing in that city. Thanks for writing such a vivid reflection.

    1. Thanks Darren. It’s the “taking a breath” bit that I have to work at the hardest. I sometimes think I listen quite well – until emotion kicks in. Then I forget that breath, and away I go.
      Ah life…a constant swirl. The still bits are good!

  2. That was beautiful. I agree with you wholeheartedly.
    It’s that long pause, while you gather your thoughts. If you can remember to do it, not only will you avoid ill-judged,rash, emotion charged responses, but that pause makes your listener really pay attention. Whenever I remember to do it, the ensuing conversation is always a much more deeply satisfying one. It’s the remembering! Getting better with age

    1. Dear Liz,
      So much richer, those conversations with space. But I don’t always manage to achieve them, sadly. Excitement, nerves, outrage, anger…it’s like they speed up my internal processors and render me slightly deaf!!
      But I guess it’s like the Camino. Paso a paso. Step by step. And surely being conscious is a step in the right direction???
      I’m breathing in…
      Thanks for writing such lovely words.

  3. Dear Ailsa
    Beautiful words and images … and very much needed in our increasingly rushed world of instant responses.
    As we were sharing this morning, there is a short technique called “break and breath” where, before we respond, it is useful to shift in our physical space – be it to move from one buttock to the other, straighten our back, shift our weight from one foot the other – whatever; while we take 2 breaths, breaths that are deep enought to provide a bit more oxygen to our lungs. Combined, these facilitate a more measured response.
    And keep writing – yours are words from the soul and give nourishment to those who care to listen.

  4. Hi Ailsa,

    further to my previous post on “Sinning”, I think I own the sin of “deafness”, ie not listening enough, or rushing to reply. I could blame a large and loud family upbringing, where we had to fight for a word in, and he who hesitated was hushed. But at my age, I should be more mindful. Too often, it’s foot meet mouth!

    1. And it takes great flexibility for the foot and the mouth to meet too! Congratulations!
      Funny – I am probably at my worst as a listener with my family. When we get together it is often unruly, and I know I need to hesitate and hush myself more. Maybe I will try jamming that foot in there! It could only be an improvement!

  5. Hi Ailsa,
    I was looking for a song by the name of “Forgotten Beach” by Robert James out of the band GANGgajang.
    It’s a song about Byron Bay and has Robert strumming his guitar along the Byron Beach.
    I came across this song about 3 years ago,and purchased his album that the song is off (I love it),but had lost the link to this You Tube since buying a new computer.
    But in looking for this song through a Google search,I stumbled across a blog called “Forgotten Beach”,with absolutely beautiful pictures of Byron Bay.
    I thought that since you were up there recently,and seem to be a bit of a photographer yourself,you might appreciate the wonder of this site.

  6. HI Darren,
    You always find great things.
    I loved the song, and all the retro shots and images. Fabulous.
    But that other site – well he is a wonderful photographer, isn’t he? I loved all the bird shots. Such colours, and the detail of the eyes. Glorious. And the light looks magnificent up there currently.
    Thanks. Great find.
    And a bit of looking is every bit as beneficial as the listening!

    1. The funny thing about the “Forgotten Beach” film clip is that the sofa Robert is sitting on in the house was from the store I used to work for,and there is about a one in three chance that I picked that sofa out of the racks when the film crew purchased it.
      Small world isn’t it ?

  7. RE:
    “So does the sofa date the clip?”

    No.You can still buy them.They are called “Klippan “sofas.
    This one in the You Tube clip is a red one,although with the colour flitter they may have used on the film I thought it was the orange one,at first.
    Rob informs me it was the red one though.
    I’ll have to get my eyes checked,I think.-)

    1. Looked orange to me too. That’s why I wondered about the timing of the clip. A very seventies colour. Took me right back to lava lamps!

  8. Oh Ailsa, such beautiful words and the wonderful thoughts that went with them. I do try to listen and not rush on and try to get in what I want to say which I think is so very important, but actually could have waited. I also endeavour to make my life as you say Paso a paso! Listening is so wonderful when there are as many different birds as we have on our 10 acre property. At this time of year the air is full of wonderful joyous bird calls, have to ask my husband what bird is sounding so delightfully musical as my knowledge is only slowly increasing as my years seem to shoot by rapidly! Agree wholeheartedly with Andrew and find also that being in the fresh air and deep breathing is a great way to slow life down and also settle the perceived need to hurry, hurry. When I read your posts I feel so much more nourished in my heart. Thank you very much. Also my appreciation of the superb photos that accompanied this post of yours.

  9. Dear Bertina,
    Thank you, thank you! I feel so very very fortunate that you, and others, take the time and trouble to seek out my posts, and to consider them with open minds, and then to respond so fully – and poetically. It is a real treat, and seems to me like another community – one I value so highly.
    I stopped to listened to the birds just now, after reading your response, and you are right – they sound very perky today. Maybe it is the spring blossom, or trying to be heard over the bees! It was a great reminder, thanks.
    Glad that you like the photos, too. I’m a total amateur, but love it, and really admire certain photographers who remind me to see the world differently. It’s a democratic artform at its simplest, but then of course when you enter it fully, you realise that like all art, the greats take it to another level.
    Oh what fun. Thanks for all your prompts – I’m very grateful for your visit.

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