Archives for posts with tag: are you listening

I will not ever be described as ‘a woman of few words’. I use a lot of words. I don’t, myself, mind that I tend toward verbosity in both speech and text; I tend also to attract people who similarly enjoy words. My traveling partner once noted “you have a lot to say”. Maybe. I certainly say a lot. Sometimes it gets in the way of saying what I most mean to say, or need to say most urgently. I can take a while getting to the point. I seriously overuse metaphors. I sometimes don’t notice the glazed look in someone’s eyes when they are finished listening before I have finished talking. It makes asking ‘do I ever actually finish talking?’ a worthy question.

I spend a great deal of my time these days not talking. Living alone, and not being the sort to talk to myself, generally, there are often hours where there is no sound of human speech in my living space. I don’t talk to my fish (very often). I don’t talk to inanimate objects, or my Barbie dolls (yes, I said it, and it’s true; I still play with my Barbies). I am not in continuous communication with other human beings, or in regular daily communication with any but my traveling partner…and you, right here. Facebook gets a share of my attention, but it rarely feels like ‘conversation’ as much as it feels like passing notes in class. I am, oddly, not at all talkative – until you place another human being in front of me. Then… yeah. I don’t seem to even notice how continuous the flow of words are then. Eventually, I may become aware that I’ve gone on too long, but… I lack sensitivity to those cues. I am a beginner, still working around the edges of life’s curriculum, and hoping for a passing grade reflected in good quality of life, and good relationships over time. I am learning to be patient with myself – it’s slow going on some points.

I interrupt a lot. I’m working on it, however it can be slow going when I lack continuous awareness of my tendency to snag any breathing space between someone else’s use of language to continue my own. It’s rude – admittedly so, but without ill will, I assure you. My brain injury doesn’t excuse the resulting poor behavior, just puts the challenge in front of me (often) to be addressed over time. What’s so irksome for me is that I really enjoy listening to other people – they have stories to tell, a different perspective and history than my own, they are a living record of their slice of the human experience – and I love hearing about it. I want to know more…If I can only stop myself talking.

I was concerned that living alone would worsen the tendency to talk over people, to interrupt people, or to ‘talk too much’ (I define ‘talking too much’ as exceeding that point at which people no longer want to listen, or having crossed some boundary by continuing the discussion). Interestingly, that seems not to be the case in conversation at all; I’m finding it somewhat easier not to interrupt – perhaps simply losing the habit of continuous speech because I am not with people almost 24/7? On the other hand…my writing tends to be somewhat more verbose these days, exceeding 1k words in almost every post. Seems harmless…you can always set it aside and come back to it later. Or not.

I think my point this morning is that I had some expectations of myself and my behavior in the context of living alone that seemed well supported by what I understood about myself, and those expectations proved to be every bit as unreliable as any other untested expectations. I was incorrect. It seems instead that living alone is doing something positive to help me build the skills to bridge the communication gaps that have gotten in the way for so long. (I’ve wrecked some valuable relationships because someone dear to me just couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Ever.)

"Taking Another Look at Me" 11" x 14" acrylic on canvas w/mirror 2011

“Taking Another Look at Me” 11″ x 14″ acrylic on canvas w/mirror 2011

Part of my commitment to myself this past Independence Day is to allow myself – to require myself – to step away from my own assumptions about who I am, and take another look at the woman in the mirror – change is, and perspective matters. What about you? When was the last time you took a look at who you are with beginner’s eyes, really accepted the changes that have molded you over time, and paused to reflect on where you are right now, with yourself, with who you are, and with what  you really want of life? When was the last time you swept away the expectations and assumptions that hold you back, and limit your decision-making freedom, or your growth?

What could be more worthy of study than communication? Even though we are each having our own experience, we are all in this together.

What could be more worthy of study than communication? Even though we are each having our own experience, we are all in this together. (detail from “Communion” )

Today it won’t take 1k words to be this woman I am, and to be open to the vast number of options, decisions, choices I am free to make. If I can let go of my assumptions about myself, if I can set aside my expectations of myself based on those assumptions… can I similarly do so in all my interactions, with each person…today? It’s a good start on changing the world. (I just need to give the world room to get a word in edgewise!)

Yesterday was fantastic, end to end. There isn’t much more to say about it; it was that rare and lovely day without one flaw or noteworthy challenge. Celebration-worthy, and certainly worth the pleasure of lingering on the recollection for a few quite moments this morning, before moving on.

There was something about yesterday that felt ‘filled with light’, and around midday I couldn’t continue to gaze at the sunshine out the window – I took my lunch break on the move, intending initially to ‘get lunch’,  and quickly found that what I wanted most was simply to walk in the sunshine, unfettered by expectations, or purpose. Seemed harmless enough; I indulged myself, to my own great delight, and the entire resulting day unfolded like a lovely flower.

I took a path that was new to me, and found myself in a lovely place.

I took a path that was new to me, and found myself in a lovely place.

The sensation of remoteness and of stillness must have come along with me; this is no wilderness.

The sensation of remoteness and of stillness must have come along with me; this is no wilderness.

I didn't have to travel far to find delight in the day, I only needed to allow the feelings to make a home in my heart.

I didn’t have to travel far to find delight in the day, I only needed to allow the feelings to make a home in my heart.

Beauty doesn't have to be fancy, or rare, and doesn't require much in the way of 'work'; like change, beauty is.

Beauty doesn’t have to be fancy, or rare, and doesn’t require much in the way of ‘work’; like change, beauty is.

Each flower opens in its own season.

Each flower opens in its own season.

In the distance, the world - and the office.

In the distance, the world – and the office.

For the small price of an hour of my time, and less than two miles of walking distance, I return to the work of the day refreshed, recharged, renewed, and feeling wholly capable and competent, and wrapped in love. A bargain. Seeing so much loveliness so near to where I will soon be living fills me with enthusiasm to greet change as a friend and companion, and motivates me to stride with great purpose toward a future that nurtures me, heart and soul. There are choices involved, verbs to enact, planning to be done – and to enjoy (because I do enjoy the planning). There are sunny days to enjoy, and more long walks on paths I have not yet explored, still ahead of me.

Today is a good day to enjoy standing in the light. Today is a good day to walk away from the darkness. Today is a good day to change the world.

Sometimes when I write I begin with the idea – a sort of trajectory of thought exists before I get started. Other days, like this morning, I dash off a title first, and realize it has meaning for me; in this case it stalls me for a moment, because it’s a title I ‘don’t want to waste’. Title-first writing works just fine for me, and having a meaningful title to begin with is fine; I build the trajectory of thought on the title. 🙂

There are a lot of articles here and there these days about ‘being present’, ‘being engaged’, ‘good communication’, really all manner of relationship building articles exist on a worthy spectrum of relationship types, styles, and purposes. Most of them include at least an honorable mention for ‘being engaged’ and ‘communication’. There’s no coincidence there, and it’s pretty obvious day-to-day that human beings are social primates with fairly clear hierarchies, most of the time. This stuff must be challenging, though, for so much to be written about it… or… is it?

Taking a few moments to consider an idea.

Taking a few moments to consider an idea.

Sometimes the most valued practices are not difficult to do, only challenging to practice reliably. I find the idea of ‘being engaged’ with another person, during a shared interaction to be that sort of thing; engaging another person on a topic of shared interest isn’t hard to do; practicing the skills that result in doing it well is another matter. It gets more complicated for me in small groups. Engaging one person lets simple things like eye contact create that intimate shared space with one other person… but what if there are two, three, four or more people (but not quite a crowd, or audience)? What then? Suddenly, eye contact focused on just that one person seems to exclude the others in the group. Powerfully positive interactions with others, of the sort that reliably support, nurture, and encourage require practice (what doesn’t?). Balancing attention and a sense of being engaged, and approachable, across a small group is its own thing.

I’ve noticed some things about being ‘engaged’:

  • People enjoy and appreciate being heard; this requires attentive, active listening – which means stop talking, and stop considering what to say next, and just listen.
  • People enjoy connection, intimacy, kindness, and encouragement, bringing things back to ‘being heard’, then requiring a response that is relevant, and shows consideration.
  • Eye contact reliably creates a connection – staring intently into someone’s eyes in a fixed unyielding way is not that. lol
  • When I am focused on what I want to say, I am not listening to someone else’s words, and they are not being heard.
  • Intimacy in conversation is personal, connected, and engaged – and not exclusive to words being exchanged continuously; being there is sometimes sufficient.
  • People are emotional beings far more than they are rational beings, but generally see themselves (and each other) as rational over emotional; this has the potential to create conflict, simply due to mismatched expectations of outcome.
  • We are each having our own experience; invalidating someone’s experience because it differs from our own is a short cut to terminating intimacy and engagement, and generally ending the interaction with hurt feelings, anger, frustration, or distance.
  • Interrupting people when they are talking is another short cut to terminating intimacy and engagement, and results in that person potentially feeling they lack value in the relationship.
    • And what a complicated and painful sideshow this one becomes with a disinhibiting brain injury – trust me on this. 😦
  • Mindfulness practices and actively being engaged – practicing putting myself ‘on pause’ to really hear someone else – take continuous practice, application of will and intention, and readiness to learn and improve and listen and practice… and repeat; and are totally worth the payout in better relationships.
  • The world does not revolve around me, and pursuing ‘being right’ over ‘being there’ results in being right more often… alone. LOL
  • Almost anything can be practiced, with the result of changed behavior, thinking, and implicit memory over time; it is important to choose wisely what we practice each day.

So, there it is. A few things I’ve observed about ‘the rules of engagement’ among human primates. I’m not expert… but it looks pretty simple from this vantage point. Today I will improve my experience by listening attentively without interrupting (practicing, practicing…), and by making eye contact with each person I am sharing conversation with. Today I will be mindful that we are each having our own experience, and that ‘the opposite of what I know is also true’, and avoid invalidating someone’s experience with dismissive or disagreeable remarks – or inattention. (Mockery is straight out; I don’t do that, it’s simply rude and unkind.) Today, as with so many days, practicing the practices is the investment I count on paying off over time.

What love looks like this morning.

What love looks like this morning.

If practice makes perfect…what are you perfecting today?

This morning I am sitting here in the quiet of dawn, and contemplating this sweet chill moment of satisfaction and contentment; I want for nothing. At least right now, this very specific and limited immediate moment of now, I am not experiencing desire, hunger, craving, yearning, or any urgent sense of need. It’s lovely.

It got me thinking, though, of recent tragedies, and lives lost to the dark side of desire: entitlement, jealousy, possessiveness, attachment, and yes, craving, yearning, wanting, ‘needing’ – those urgent hard-to-resist feelings that say there is something amiss in the world when some object, experience, or person is not available for ownership, possession, or purchase. I doubt it is the desire itself that is the challenge. My own experiences tell me that the difficulties (and horrors) develop when a person is overcome by the conviction that some outcome is their due. Expectation. Demand. Entitlement.

I’ve struggled with it, too. It’s very human to want something or someone so badly that it takes over reason and good sense, destroys compassion and consideration, impedes respect, or seems to justify bad behavior; it isn’t appropriate to take action on those feelings in any way that encroaches on someone else’s will, personal liberty, control of their own body, sense of safety, or freedom to withhold consent.  Rapists are a problem, and the lack of consent is the defining thing, and even in the face of the obviousness of it there manages to be discussion about it, as if there is some permissible amount of non-consensual conduct that is acceptable. (There isn’t.)

It took me a long time to get here. I have been wading through a lot of wreckage, and looking back on me over the years, I owe a number of very good-hearted people apologies of one sort or another; damage doesn’t truly excuse being a shitty human being.  I have struggled with myself, and I still do, figuring out the consent piece, for myself, as I find my way in the world.   I wasn’t exactly brought up to respect my own boundaries, to expect that my consent – or lack of it – would be respected, or even to say no and mean it in clear, explicit terms.  The result? I sometimes didn’t treat other rape survivors well; I treated them as badly as I treated myself. I didn’t understand the nature of consent, or that the word ‘no’ had any power to change events. My own experiences didn’t support that. I didn’t understand it is my right to choose, to say yes or no, and to have those choices be accepted and honored.  I spent years as an unwitting accomplice to rape culture; the survivor-apologist, so busy being ‘accountable for my own actions’ that I was willing to excuse my violation.  Getting past that and building a healthy understanding of the sanctity of my consent has been a complicated battle.

[Are you listening? It isn’t too late to show yourself compassion, to respect your own pain, to stand on your values and say ‘no’. It’s okay, too, to feel shame at the damage you’ve done as a tool in your own destruction – and to choose another path, now. You said it would matter if just one woman, one survivor, would say “I’m sorry I made things worse.” I’m here. I’m one woman. I’m sorry.]

So… here we all are… talking about the issues more openly, more insistently, more frankly. That, in spite of the pain and the circumstances, is an important step forward.

In the midst of pain, there is still beauty.

In the midst of pain, there is still beauty.

Today is a good day to talk about difficult subjects honestly. Today is a good day to be compassionate and concerned. Today is a good day to respect myself, and others. Today is a good day to change the world.