All A’Twitter by George Merrill


Remember the days when a tweet was a delight to the senses? Can you recall how the sound of birds had an almost ethereal mystique like the laughter of loons that made us wonder what was so funny out there on the lake in the dark? A sparrow’s tweet was chirpy and cheerful, the dove, while not a tweet as such was an evocative sound and often the first thing we would hear when we rose to meet our day. Twitter was the welcoming voice of the morning –sung by nature for us as we prepared to meet the challenges of the day. In the last several months the tweet has emitted mostly dissonant, discordant notes. Twitter, once the gift from our feathered friends, is now for the birds. The sounds of beauty and joy are displaced by the cries of anger and retribution. Very sad!

But no! The task for those of us who, in our daily lives, yearn for the return of joyful music we’ve known like the melodies of larks and whippoorwills (I confess the incessant squeal of the Osprey irritates me) is not to despair but to develop wiser ways of hearing, more selective ways of seeing, indeed, more creative ways of being. That includes listening with the third ear, perceiving with the third eye, and becoming aware of what transpires in that quiet corner of our minds of which we remain generally unaware. When sought out, it has helpful secrets to guide us. We access it by thinking more deeply.

Yes, scorpions sting and skunks smell. Pigeons make park benches uninhabitable and cats leave the broken bodies of mice unceremoniously at our doorsteps. But that’s just who they are. That’s what they do. We must look beyond their propensities, and that means exploring our own more deeply. We are endowed with remarkable capacities to reflect, face ugliness with grace, gentleness and wisdom. Our job is to strengthen that capacity.

The world enfolds. We react but mostly instinctually. To what are we reacting? Typically it’s to someone’s preposterous claims. Our initial reaction doesn’t always render an accurate assessment. Psychoanalyst Theodor Reik taught us about listening with the third ear. This is a deep listening to what is demanding our attention and troubling us. It’s one way of listening that hears but doesn’t attach itself inordinately to what it’s hearing.  It’s a little like the wise mother who is dealing with an obstreperous child who gets fussy and petulant. Where’s the fussiness coming from, the wise mother thinks? It’s to that she attends, and not to the irritable whining and fussing. She develops the capacity to hear what’s beyond the petulance and listen for where it’s originating. She doesn’t deny what’s happening but she’s not reactive. She keeps her eye on the ball and isn’t distracted.

As there is a third ear, in the fabric of our spiritual composition, there’s also a third eye. I learned recently about ‘bindis.’ A bindi is a small red dot that appears on the forehead between the brows of Hindu and other religious practitioners in India. It witnesses to the gate that leads to our inner realms and spaces of higher consciousness. It is the sacred symbol of the cosmos in its unmanifested state, I suspect a little like the Garden of Eden before the fall, a wonderful place to explore. Like so many spiritual paradoxes we discover over our lifetime, we have the capacity to see beyond the mundane and trivial to discern between what’s cruel and demeaning and what is kind and life giving. With practice we can find refuge in the larger picture where goodness endures, while not becoming ensnared in what’s ephemeral and two-dimensional.

There are people who hear with the third ear and see with the third eye. They are our prophets. Rachel Carson was a modern prophet. Prophets never have it easy.

I recall the early days of environmental awareness and the struggles that took place. As Allied Chemical recognized the threat that Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” posed to the pesticide industry, they launched an ugly campaign to discredit her. In a clip I saw years ago, a man speaking for the chemical industry – handsome, white haired, an articulate male industry captain – tries to discredit her scientific findings alleging that because she was a woman and an unmarried woman at that, it’s well established that a single women are inclined to hysteria and are therefore unreliable. Talk about fake news!

I think of her today and the title of her epic book  “Silent Spring.” The title referenced the danger that unregulated toxins were creating in the environment by specifically inducing a chain of poisons that spread indiscriminately through the ecosystem destroying wildlife. Silent Spring alluded to the destruction of birds whose melodic twitter is one of the timeless treasures of the natural world.

I’ve had the thought that at some point someone will write a commentary on our age of vicious electronic exchanges and identify the destructive aspects they are having on the social fabric. They might title it, “Dissonant Spring.”

Social toxins, left unregulated, poison an entire social structure.

I’m not sure where this story originated but it speaks to the heart of the matter for me.

A young Cherokee is brought before the tribal elders. They are concerned about his aggressive tendencies. One of the elders takes the young man aside and tells him that his anger is understandable, since all humans have within them two wolves. One wolf is good and peaceable, and the other is evil and angry. The two wolves are in constant battle with one another, since neither is powerful enough to destroy the other. The young man asks the elder “But if they are of equal power, which wolf will win?” And the elder replies, “The one you feed the most.”

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.



Letters to Editor

  1. Diane Shields says:

    This is SO important right now, for all of us to read and implement!

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