Today I Learned...To Re-learn Listening
I recently was asked to read Brenda Ueland's The Art of Listening. In fact, I was asked twice to read this article for very different reasons, and so, of course, I did. I sat down, dutifully prepared to highlight this and tag that so that I would have my responses in order, and I was amazed to recognize that I haven't really been listening at all lately. Imagine my surprise, but more than that, my feeling of guilt. For me, it became abundantly clear that listening has as much to do with presencing as anything. And I came to recognize that while I was engaged, I was also disconnected enough from that with which I was engaged that whole segments of what people said, whether in front of me in person or on the phone or there bouncing before me on my screen via Skype, went in one ear, potentially, and absolutely, out the other.
I became aware of this quite recently, but I tried to avoid it. I was certain that it was simply because I was too tired, or too busy and therefore my brain was on overload. Oh, the excuses I came up with! And, really, many of them could easily have been correct, except for one thing: the sinking feeling of having failed at the task at hand. I have always said, "I want to be a good listener," and here I was, the basic art of every day listening before me and I was miserably not listening, and not hearing, and thus not realizing my own intention. I was tuning out, become self preoccupied, and in the process began to think, "I am too busy for this." Those six words stopped me in my tracks after reading Ueland's article.
Years ago I had a friend, a very nice friend, who would always be too busy to hang-out. Oh, how it irked me! "You're only as busy as you allow yourself to be, and if it's important enough for you, you'll make the time," was always what I thought when she would say this. And when I recently heard myself repeatedly answering, "I'm busy," I began to hear the echo from my past wisdom and I chided myself and thought, "Get over yourself. You're simply not this important that you are too busy to listen!"
As you can well imagine, Ueland's words contrasted with my own experience, and motivated me to practice the art of listening more actively in my life. And so today, I did. Instead of always verbally responding to a comment or action, I paused. And when someone asked what I did or how I was, I tried to circumnavigate the response of business and, instead, to give a morsel of a story, an anecdote from my day. I listened to what people were saying underneath their words, their gestures, their interactions. And I heard new things--new words in someone's vocabulary, the tender love in another's voice, the worrying twitch in another's sentences. I heard, too, the heartbeat of someone laughing, and the pitiful meowing of the cat at the door.
And then, as I tried to open myself to this active art, I listened as the winds rolled over and past our home and the rains splashed onto the windows and I realized: today I planted a seed to begin to re-acquaint myself with the integrity of listening. And so I listen, and I wait, and I wonder at what will come to me next.