Viewpoint: The Silent Whisper

Printed in the  Winter 2018  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Hebert, Barbara, "Viewpoint: The Silent Whisper" Quest 106:1, pg 10-11

By Barbara Hebert

National President

Theosophical Society - Barbara B. Hebert currently serves as president of the Theosophical Society in America.  She has been a mental health practitioner and educator for many years.Recently I had the opportunity to travel into the city of Chicago to visit friends. It was a lovely fall weekend, and there were people everywhere. Watching this small sea of humanity—various ages, different cultures, diverse styles of clothing, and so on—I was seized with a sense of wonder. Where are they all going? Where have they all come from? What are their lives like? What challenges do they face? How do they handle them? These people are all dissimilar, but yet are all unified at the core.

It wasn’t much of a jump to begin wondering about life and the meaning that each of us gives to it. What gives meaning to my life? What gives meaning to your life?

Getting up in the morning, getting dressed, and going about our day—whatever that encompasses—is part of what we need to do in order to function in this physical world. I wonder, though, if these daily chores provide meaning for our lives in a deeper way. Judith Johnston, in a 2010 blog for the Huffington Post, writes:

What sustains you? What puts a smile on your face and lights up your heart? What keeps the embers of your soul on fire? What really matters deeply to you? It is so easy to get caught up in the ongoing activities and demands of our lives, often forgetting or losing track of what is most meaningful to us . . . For me, there are three things that give my life its deepest meaning: my spiritual evolution, my freedom and the opportunity to be of service to assist others in lifting upward. These are the things that, if all else were stripped away, would continue to sustain my spirit and enrich me.

Considering this question (“If all else were stripped away, what would sustain my spirit and enrich me?”) offers the opportunity for insight and self-awareness. For me, daily chores needed to function in the physical world, while necessary, do not “light up my heart” or “keep the embers of [my] soul on fire.” How do we find those things that give meaning to life? Every one of us may have a different answer to this question, but the question itself provides a common ground from which to start.

Johnston’s comments about the three things that provide her with the deepest meaning are reminiscent of the teachings inherent within Theosophy: spiritual self-transformation; the freedom to study, learn, and grow in relation to what rings true for each of us; and serving others in an effort to transform the consciousness of all beings.

Focusing on spiritual self-transformation, which incorporates learning, growing, and serving, pushes us to look within. N. Sri Ram, the late international president of the TS, writes: “What each one of us fundamentally needs is that inner peace which is to be discovered solely within ourselves, which no-one else can give, which the world with all its resources, can never supply.”

When we look within ourselves, when we find that inner peace, we begin to lead more authentic lives. Living an authentic life, from this perspective, means living from the perspective of who we truly are at the deepest level. We begin to live without artifice or pretense, recognizing that the physical world, while an important aspect of living in a physical body, is not reality. Carl Jung said, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” Jung also said, “Looking outwards has got to be turned into looking into oneself. Discovering yourself provides you with all you are, were meant to be, and all you are living from and for.”

When we look into our own hearts and listen to the silent whisper from ourselves, we begin to find those things that provide meaning for our lives. We find the gentle exhilaration that comes from leading an authentic life, from becoming who we truly are. We begin to awake, as Jung says, discovering our true selves and the inner peace referred to by Sri Ram.

To return to our original question, then, what gives meaning to life? The answer for each of us will be different, but for me, meaning comes from the continuous quest to look inside, listen for the silent whisper, and do all in my power to live an authentic life, to become who I truly am.

I haven’t succeeded yet, and it doesn’t look as if I’ll succeed any time in the near future! Daily I am distracted by the mundane chores of being in a physical body in a physical world. I look outside, and, as Jung says, I “dream.” The physical world becomes my reality: the need to go to work, to do laundry, to cook food. Daily I am distracted by the busyness of my mind and the constant swirl of thoughts. I am not listening for the silent whisper; rather, I am sidetracked by the seemingly ceaseless thoughts of what I should do, what I have done, what I should have done instead, what others should do and have done, and so on, ad infinitum. Then my busy mind says, “You’re not listening for the silent whisper” and continues to spin with thoughts of what I should do in order to listen for the silent whisper. Living an authentic life isn’t as easy as it sounds, so what should we do?

In order to change behavior, we must, first, become aware of the need for change and, second, be willing to make the changes needed. In addition to awareness and willingness, there must be an understanding that change is a process that takes time. How much time? That will vary with each one of us; however, it is unlikely that change will occur rapidly. A Chinese proverb says, “The person who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”

We begin by recognizing there is a mountain to be moved, having a desire to move it, and then carrying away those small stones. Knowing that there is an authentic life to be lived is a step forward. Recognizing that distraction happens to every single one of us on a daily basis is a step forward. Realizing that my busy mind prevents me from listening for the silent whisper is a step ahead. Although these may appear to be small steps, clearly the movement is forward. Another Chinese proverb states, “Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.”

Once we begin to take the steps, to carry away the small stones, we are no longer standing still. We are beginning the quest—regardless of how long it takes—to become who we truly are. It is this spiritual quest that gives meaning to life. It is a quest that every individual can undertake, regardless of whether one adheres to a specific religious or spiritual tradition or not. It is a quest that can provide great trials and tremendous enlightenment. It is a quest every individual will eventually commence. This spiritual quest to live authentically is a quest to live wholly or holily, both of which words, according to former national president John Algeo, derive from the same root. Algeo goes on to say that “holiness is not a matter of wearing a saintly halo. It is a matter of being completely and fully human. Most of us are not yet fully human. We are only on the way to becoming so.” He continues, saying, “The source of holiness and of importance is the Divine Wisdom, Theosophy. And it is not to be found in the Theosophical Society, although it may be found through the Society. Theosophy is to be found in our own hearts and minds.”

So when the question is asked, “What gives meaning to your life?”, what is your answer? The answer for many is in the process of looking within to discover the authentic self, the quest to one day become completely and fully human, the journey to recognize our holiness and the holiness of all beings.

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