Archives for posts with tag: are you listening

I am sipping coffee in this moment of leisure, on a day off. I am thinking about “being present”, and what that means, to me, beyond raising my hand when called upon, or occupying a shared physical space. It’s more than that, right? When I consider “being present in the moment”, I mean something very different than standing in a particular physical space in a particular moment. “Being present” is about awareness, connection, and “presence” beyond the characteristic of occupying space. I need more words… or other words. Different words. There’s a nuance I want to understand, and communicate, that seems harder to pin down, with regard to “being present”.

I am here, now. Am I fully “present”? I am sipping coffee. I am writing. My headphones are on, and there is a video playing in the background that I am not really listening to. Am I present? Or… am I more engaged in this process of writing out my musings than I am in experiencing this specific moment of my life? It’s something to think about.

“Presence” is a quality that can bring improvement to our cherished relationships. When our “presence” is lacking (while we continue to occupy some particular physical space), our friends, partners, lovers, family members, and even strangers near us, can feel as if we’re not really there. No authentic give and take. A lack of “paying attention” may be noted. A lack of “presence” can undermine our relationships. It’s sometimes called out as “distance” (or emotional distance) – an experience that someone is withholding not just their attention, but even their “self”, from interactions. “We grew apart”, we sometimes say, when relationships have withered and ended, due to lack of presence.

…Our digital devices are not helping with this; use of our handheld devices is a common source of broken connections, and loss of presence. A notification gets our attention, and we grab that phone, interrupting ourselves mid-sentence, leaving someone sitting right there with us, in the middle of a conversation, wondering what value they really bring to the relationship, at all, that they matter so little. I don’t think most of us afflicted thusly mean anything ill by our rudeness, we don’t even notice; we’re not “present”.

I sip my coffee, thinking my thoughts about presence. Giving consideration to being more considerate. Contemplating the enormous self-discipline that may be required to finish sentences, conversations, shared experiences, personal moments, while disregarding notifications and ringing phones; isn’t living “real life” in the moment, present with the person you are with more important that some remote digital “conversation”? Expectation-setting and basic manners are probably useful in those situations. “Excuse me a moment, I’d like to reply to this message.” Simple enough. Or, hey, better still? Let that message sit there while I enjoy the moment with the real human being who values me enough to be right there with me in that moment? Probably a good choice, where healthy relationships are concerned, generally. lol

I continue to sip my coffee. I pull myself back to this quiet moment I am enjoying with myself – don’t I also deserve a moment of my time, fully present with myself? Isn’t that what meditation is “about”?

I make a second coffee, and restart that video; I didn’t actually watch it, my attention was divided. 🙂 It’s time to be present. It’s time to begin again. 😀

I am sipping my coffee, and taking a few moments for myself at the start of the day. Another work day. One of just 4 remaining at this job, which admittedly feels strange. At this point, it’s mostly meetings, and writing process documentation for things that simply must continue to get done, in spite of my departure, which has nothing at all to do with me. Right now, moments for me are rare. Purposefully winding things down at my job, while I am in the office, and, at home, committing most of my limited leisure time to listening to the tales of a traveler. 🙂

My Traveling Partner is moving in, and there is newness and adjustment to be had for us both. The first time we moved in together, I’m pretty sure I did most of the talking. I had a lot to say. I hadn’t been really listened to (and certainly did not “feel heard”) for what felt like years. I talked. He listened. I needed that consideration and moment of regard. I earnestly needed to feel heard. I’ll be real about it; the person who wasn’t listening with the most commitment to oppression and disregard was actually me. I didn’t understand that, and I would have no idea what to do about it, once I did. It’s been a journey.

We each have to walk our own hard mile. Along the way, I’ve learned how much listening deeply really matters. I’ve also learned that it is a skill that must be practiced, and takes time to develop. I’ve learned that I’m not “naturally good at it”, myself, and that means practice must be committed, and undertaken from a position of presence and self-awareness (otherwise, I just start talking again). At this point? I’m often pretty good at it. (Still takes practice, presence, and self-awareness, as well as consideration for another.)

This time, as my partner moves in, he talks. I listen. I’m learning a lot about this human being I hold in such high regard. My affection has deepened with the telling of the tales. I wrap my lover in listening. We all want to be heard – to feel heard. I do my best. The listening matters more than any observation or reply I could make. This is not the time for my words. I continue to listen, setting boundaries gently when I need stillness, or a distraction, or a break from an intense moment; listening deeply can be work (it’s a bit topic dependent). We set explicit ground rules together, as partners, about things like checking in and making sure it’s a good time before starting down the path of discussing childhood trauma, or very emotionally intense topics likely to evoke a visceral reaction. We check in with each other when we see a micro-expression suggesting emotional pain, discomfort, or something left urgently unspoken that perhaps could best be shared.

About listening deeply… deep listening, as a specific practice, is simple enough to describe, and I’ll spend a lifetime practicing, because practice is what is required to become skillful. Deep listening only requires that I set aside all else, and just listen. Only that. No “waiting for my turn to talk”. No impatiently fidgeting with a reply I just want to get out there. No interrupting to make “corrections”. No taking what I hear personally. Just listening, present, aware, and also non-judgmentally. Asking clarifying questions can be part of listening deeply, but I definitely have to be very aware, such that I am not interrupting in order to do so. Deep listening is not a passive process, and I have found myself unable to hold onto hostility or to be confrontational, while also listening deeply. There is compassion involved, gratitude, appreciation, awareness, and yes, even love, and certainly consideration.

So, yeah, in general, this change in my lifestyle is still feeling pretty… well, “effortless” is the wrong word here, because unpacking things, moving other things, doing housekeeping, fixing small broken things, moving stuff around, all that stuff that goes with moving, well it all amounts to effort, for sure. It’s just not “hard”, and feels pretty natural. Like having my best friend move in – which makes a lot of sense, since he’s been my bestie for close to a decade. 🙂

There will no doubt still be moments ahead of us when, perhaps, one or the other of us is taken over creatively by a moment of inspiration, with no bandwidth remaining, at least temporarily, to give over to our lover. There may be moments when tempers flare, or we’re cross with each other, purely as a product of being very much made entirely of human. It’s hard to worry about it; things are very excellent, deeply loving, and connected, right now. Right now is enough. 🙂 Still… it’s helpful to practice those practices (such as listening deeply) that nurture and connect us so deeply. It’s helpful to be mindful of my Big 5 (respect, reciprocity, consideration, compassion, and openness), which have stood so many tests, so well. I can always use more practice. 😀

It’s time to begin again.

Um… Yep. Of course, I am, why would I be defensive if accused of being soft, of being kind, of wanting more and better for all of humanity? lol It’s hardly an insult. Am I delicate? Probably. My feelings get hurt when I am treated badly, why wouldn’t they be? Don’t I want to be treated well? Of course, I do. I want that for you, for all of us, for everyone. Why would I want anything else? So. Let’s put that whole “insulted by being accused of something good” silliness to rest, shall we? I’m a snowflake? Am I that? Something different? I am human… I appreciate my individual qualities as I see them… I appreciate yours… We’re each having our own experience on life’s journey. Sometimes it snows. 😉

There were undeniably snowflakes. They fell and melted away as snowflakes do.

There were undeniably snowflakes. They fell and melted away as snowflakes do.

I’ve been having to remind myself regularly that my best qualities are not flaws merely because they are shouted at me as insults, or snidely pointed out as weaknesses or limitations, and more often than not by those who lack those qualities, entirely. People who are so frightened, insecure, and in so much personal pain that they have lost sight of their shared humanity; all they have left is their anger. Well… shit. I get angry, too. Sometimes their anger infests me, plagues me, spreads from their consciousness to mine like a disease… of dis-ease. Ick. Makes me want to shower my brain. 🙂

We aren’t the insults directed our way by the hurt, the angry, the misled, the frustrated, the annoyed, the foolish, or the deranged. We’re also not the compliments lavished on us by friends, loved ones, passing strangers on a good day… or the foolish, or deranged. Too often I have found myself cherishing or resenting a handful of words tossed my way by another human being, sometimes with an intention that is not obvious to me in the moment. Words have power… the power we give them. Words are also just words, lacking in substance until substance is acknowledged. Funny magical things, words. Use your magic powers with care!

I attended an interesting meeting in the not too distant past. Everyone showed up with their laptops. Most people showed up with their cell phones. There was a meeting agenda, crafted in advance to ensure efficiency. A list of topics and action items was developed. People came to the table with the intention of achieving goals and moving projects forward. Most speakers, as the meeting unfolded, found themselves repeating material – often more than once – and defending, refuting, or clarifying points not made, and details not outlined, because the other participants were not actually fully listening at all; they were on the laptops, working, or on their devices, texting. “Multi-tasking”. I chuckle when I consider the pointless waste of precious time that 90 minutes turned out to be. Nearly everyone involved ended up following up with each other in the hours after the meeting to clarify important concerns, details, or verify expected action items after-the-fact, because in a very real sense, they didn’t actually attend that meeting, at all. Since then, I take a notepad and a pen to meetings, no connected devices. I set expectations with colleagues that I am away from my desk and unavailable. I engage the material being presented. I walk away fairly certain I understand my role. It’s such a huge improvement that when I host a meeting, myself, my first ask is that everyone mute their cell phones, set those aside, and close their laptops. Laptops don’t have meetings, people do. lol

I find myself wondering how much of the contentiousness of the world, the refusal to see eye-to-eye or acknowledge shared concerns or to collaborate, is a byproduct of not being in the moment, involved together, engaging each other directly, present and listening deeply? Quite probably mostly all of it. lol There’s a huge difference between calling a faceless group of people you’ve never met “liberal liars” or “conservative morons” than to directly, face-to-face, challenge the perspective of a human being in a skillful way. Dealing with our fears, or our insensitivity, or our cruelty surely starts with recognizing it, discussing it honestly, frankly, and without nastiness? Doesn’t that also require that we be listening when someone is talking?

Who are you? What are you afraid of? Can you hear me? Are you listening?

Listening isn’t my greatest strength, I admit. I interrupt a lot. Too much. I recognize how rude that is. I practice listening deeply. I practice a lot. The woman I most want to be is known for how well she listens; it’s something to work towards. An entire community of people who listen to each other, from the youngest voter, to the oldest elder official in office, and all the layers of human beings living lives in between… wouldn’t that change the world?

I’ll keep practicing. 🙂

Questions are powerful. Asking them often seems more valuable [to me] than insisting on answers. It’s the questions that redirect my attention from one thing to another. Questions fired off one after the other without time to answer quickly find me feeling backed into a corner, or attacked and frustrated. Questions themselves are not to blame for any of that; it’s how they are used, and with what intent. If I am listening, they can also quickly alert me that I am being misunderstood. I am learning to practice deep listening even when I feel emotionally attacked, or unexpectedly cornered by someone else’s aggressively expressed agenda. (I’m not saying I find it easy, but I often find it successful for putting challenging discourse back on a civil, comfortable foundation.) The most interesting thing about practicing listening deeply is that I end up… listening. Hearing more. Understanding more. Feeling more compassionate and level-headed. Feeling empowered and safe. Once I’m in that place, it becomes a simple thing to ask a question. No animus, no aggression, no passive-aggressive tit-for-tat punishment or emotional bullshit; I am able to ask a reasonable, compassionate, interested question that may actually result in needs being met, and a greater shared understanding being reached. It’s the whole point of a question, actually.

Who's 'right'? The ducks or the waiting cat crouched in the grass?

Who’s ‘right’? The ducks or the waiting cat crouched in the grass?

Questions are powerful. My results vary, of course, because sometimes it is the very feeling of power, itself, that has fueled whatever drama of the moment exists between human beings – and some people don’t want to ‘give up their power’, and perceive any power in anyone else’s hands as a direct threat to their own. It’s a weird sort of emotional greed. I don’t know quite what else to think of it. Fearfulness at its core, probably – I’ve been so terrified of being powerless, myself, that a single question directed with insightful compassion directly at the heart of whatever was truly bothering me could cause real rage; being visible and understood wasn’t what I was after, I only wanted to feel powerful (and I was, in that moment, willing to get there at the expense of someone else’s feeling of emotional safety). I find it, now, a very unhealthy approach. Giving up needing to ‘be right’, giving up needing to feel powerful (not the same thing as feeling empowered!) and practicing authenticity, self-acceptance, and awareness are important stepping-stones to being able to listen deeply (practicing, practicing!), and ask questions with more compassion, and without attacking (also requiring practice).

If I feel flooded, how do I find firm footing to maintain a feeling of safety?

If I feel flooded, how do I find firm footing to maintain a feeling of safety?

Based on careful observation, the vast majority of disagreements are not at all what they appear to be, and it seems rare that participants in dialogue have actually taken time to ensure they have shared definitions of terms, respected fact-based ground rules for the discussion – and a shared purpose in asking and answering their questions. Conversation is so much more pleasant and fulfilling when it is built on sincere connection and genuine receptivity to another person’s thinking. I’m not much interested in arguments, they take time away from intimacy, affection, and connecting deeply with ones fellow humans. This journey is too rich for strategic bullshit, cautious diplomacy, and game-playing! There are stories to tell, adventures to share, parables to teach with, and love notes to slip past the rigidity of our work lives – all so much more important than arguments built on strategy, mud-slinging, and bogus assumptions, all seeking to persuade rather than to learn, grow, or inform. Opening the door to something more sometimes takes little more than a question.

Are you okay?

Are you okay? How are you feeling? What do you need that I can provide?

Unfortunately, questions are also handy emotional weapons. What a shame. What a waste of precious mortal time. I am learning to face such attacks with a new tool; I listen. I’ve stopped focusing on delivering an immediate answer ‘to defend myself’; if I feel attacked, defending myself is probably pretty pointless, because there is something more going on. Instead, I remind myself that this other human being made not have been fully frank with their intent, their needs, or the purpose of their question. They may not have a similar understanding of the topic being discussed as I do, myself. I listen. I take a deep breath – or several – and listen. I am learning – and practicing – letting go of that attachment to ‘being right’ that is so often part of this very human experience, and reminding myself not to take this other human being’s experience at all personally. I listen more. I am learning – and practicing – talking less. It turns out that it is not at all painful to listen. It sucks to ‘wait to talk’, however, so learning to listen (practicing!) requires a commitment to some verbs, and considerable beginning again. (I interrupt rather chronically, partially because I have a brain injury that makes it harder not to, and partially because I need more practice not interrupting.) I find it helpful, when listening deeply, to ask a question when it is clear that a response is expected; this can help me avoid hijacking a conversation in progress with my own agenda, when the person speaking actually has more to say. 🙂

Am I understanding your words correctly? Do you mean what I think I heard?

Am I understanding your words correctly? Do you mean what I think I heard?

I’m definitely not saying that my words lack value, or that I don’t also want and need to be heard, just that it seems pretty reasonable that we all feel that way, and there does seem to be a woeful shortage of real listening going on… if no one is really listening, how will anyone at all feel truly heard, truly visible, or truly connected?

Will I find balance between listening, and questions?

Will I find balance between listening, and questions?

I have the evening to myself tonight, according to the calendar. No idea what I’ll do with it. Paint? Read? Play? Maybe take a few quiet moments and really listen to my own questions? Questions are powerful – and I value feeling heard.

It’s a quiet stormy evening. I’ve gotten most of my laundry done, bringing it in warm and dry from the laundry room between rain showers. Between loads of laundry I’ve spent time meditating, as storm clouds and passing showers crossed the view out the patio window. I enjoy seeing the sky, a horizon, a view, and so placed my favorite cushion for meditating just there, where my view of the park beyond the patio is unobstructed.

Potted miniature roses drenched by passing showers don't seem to mind the rain at all.

Potted miniature roses drenched by passing showers don’t seem to mind the rain at all.

Tonight had been planned for love and loving, but love had other needs, elsewhere, tonight. Love isn’t always easy, and needs considerable investment in respect, in consideration, in compassion, and yes, even openness and reciprocity. I’m sure I’ve never felt truly loved in their absence. (That’s why they are my Big 5 relationship values!) Still, I don’t feel any lack of love for love’s lack of proximity tonight. I feel heard, cared for, respected, valued – I feel wrapped in the comfort and warmth of a strong partnership, signal boosted with clear communication and explicit expectation setting. I find myself feeling compassion (his are complicated circumstances), and hoping very much that the evening goes well for my tested traveling partner; his relationship building skills are considerable – love still requires that everyone involved make an equal investment of heart, and will, and effort. No one human being can hold an entire relationship together alone. There are so many verbs involved…mindful loving uses many more of them than I had imagined (and I still have so much to learn). Listening deeply is a practice worthy of practicing – and then practicing more; I’ve learned so much more about love in the silence between my words that gives my lover room to be heard, than I ever did in one moment of something I said myself. Still; verbs. It isn’t enough to wait to talk. It’s the listening that counts, and doing it skillfully requires more than a little practice.

Listening deeply is like looking at something distant, requiring attention, focus, engagement and presence; this is not a picture of branches.

Listening deeply is like looking at something distant; it requires attention, focus, engagement and presence. (This is not a picture of branches.)

The television is off. No background slide show, no cartoons or animation, no favorite series or new hilarious YouTube video, science documentary, or nature show to pull my focus from the quiet evening. I am giving myself my time and attention. There is music playing, but that too is subdued; jazz (‘fusion’) tonight, bass heavy, relaxed, complex, rich, and joyous, and turned down low enough to feel the quiet of evening nonetheless – the sort of easy, inspiring sounds that apparently compel considerable overuse of adjectives and adverbs – the musical equivalent of poetry, but the sort of uplifting simple thing easily remembered and happily shared.

Too many words. This is too many – isn’t it? Is it? I’m not sure. I think I’ve gone a tad overboard here, just now, but I feel content and filled with warm joy and a feeling of security. It’s pleasant – and I don’t feel quite this way very often at all. It’s the security, I think – a sort of calm strength just beneath the surface of the contentment and joy. It’s nice. I’m sure I ‘worked’ to get ‘here’…but I didn’t plan it, or seek it out, I’ve been busy on other practices, other verbs, other concerns in life. Maybe that’s the point of what I am saying tonight; I didn’t chase this down as an outcome. I simply arrived here. Practicing good basic self-care, treating myself truly well, practicing practices that build emotional resilience and self-sufficiency, learning skills that support my emotional balance – whether I am home alone, out in the world, or faced with a moment of someone else’s drama – each incremental change over time has been a step on a journey that brought me here. ‘Here’ is very nice, I must say…and it’s enough.

One moment of many. I am here. I am okay. This is enough.

One moment of many. I am here. I am okay. This is enough.

Today is a good day to enjoy what is – whatever it is, however much it can be enjoyed. Today is a good day to learn from what hurts. Today is a good day to watch storms pass over head, and to recognize the difference between ‘climate’ and ‘weather’. Today is a good day to take a step back from the world, and listen deeply in a quiet moment.