Archives for posts with tag: do you hear me now?

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. ūüôā

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. ūüė¶
  • 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?

Subtleties matter in language. There is a distinction to be made between one thing and another, and we use language to make that distinction clear to others. An example? ‘Point of view’ versus ‘angle of view’ – they mean different things, yes? Or…no? How about the difference between ‘being critical’ and ‘critical thinking’? That seems a pretty important distinction to make; those things are not the same at all, they just take advantage of language by sharing a word. Some differences are about how something feels within us, like ‘irritable’ versus ‘angry’; making that distinction helps us communicate our state of being more accurately to others. Some difference seem more a matter of precision about something outside ourselves, but I’m often unclear on the line between ‘within’ and ‘external’, not due to any particular madness of note, but simply because so few people communicate clearly in language sufficiently precise to account for those nuances – or are unclear themselves on the subtle differences between their internal experience (“this is uncomfortable for me” for example) and their external experience (“this is wrong or impermissible, and being imposed on me” for example). ¬†I am learning to listen carefully, and to apply mindful awareness to opportunities to connect and enjoy people in the moment.

It gets complicated when I consider that the words I don’t say have nearly as much impact on other people as the words I do say.

It gets even more complicated when I consider that the tone with which I deliver those words changes their meaning to the person hearing them.

I’m still sort of feeling my way around in the murky shadow lands of good communication, actually. I tend to be strangely ‘face value’ about what people say, much of time. I don’t tend to see/hear subtext very easily, although I can quickly craft numerous alternate meanings or explanations of something said, it’s a very abstract thing. When I have more data, I can be more accurate, but it isn’t really about that other level of understanding for me; I am guessing. Maybe we all are? Those pesky assumptions can really fuck us up!

A journey, a path, a way, an experience.

A journey, a path, a way, an experience.

This has been a lovely few days for beautiful words, too. My partner has showered me with lovely ones, meaningful loving profundities of all kinds, hyperbolic assurances of value, appreciation, worthiness, and fondness. He’s also lobbed a few my way in moments of frustration or hurt that were just flat-out human and mean. I definitely hear the mean part first, and have to fight not to react to that before I catch up with the rest and hear his frustration and hurt; speaking to what is has more value than allowing myself to be chased by my own demons.

Right now, Hardwiring Happiness is the most important book in my kindle. I didn’t realize how little time I was spending really enjoying, savoring, and appreciating the good things, the beautiful words, or the best moments, and how very many minutes I would spend on what hurt, what frustrates me, what makes me sad, what weighs down my heart, or makes me angry – whole hours and days in fact, resulting in implicit negatively bias so extraordinary that I developed a hair-trigger response to frustration that resulted in nasty tantrums, irrational fits of rage or despair, and a lot of irritability because life often felt like it just sucked. I don’t generally feel that way much these days.

Whimsical porcelain figurine; Meissen on display at the Portland Art Museum.

Whimsical porcelain figurine; Meissen on display at the Portland Art Museum.

Words are magical – and not always well-received, or understood at intended. Life’s curriculum is often built on the power of words.

Today is a good day to use fewer words, with more clarity. Today is a good day to use gentle words, with more kindness. Today is a good day to use words with great precision, and great honesty. Today is a good day to change the words.

 

Yesterday was…difficult. Every boundary I have in the work place was stomped on. Every inconvenient moment was as inconvenient as seemed possible. Things broke. Things went wrong. Timing was poor. Sometime shortly after 2pm, the day took a hard right turn toward being a totally shitty experience, and it was downhill from there. Looking back I can see how much pain had to say about how the day went; I was off my meds. :-\ ¬†Not on purpose, let me be clear about that, it was mischance that led to me missing my afternoon painkiller, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. As I got further and further from the last helpful moment provided by my morning medication my mood got worse. I didn’t really make the connection between my shitty mood, my challenging experience, and the lack of pain relief until I was almost home in the evening. I might have behaved differently if I had.

Thankfully, new practices aplenty did actually work – although in the moment I wasn’t necessarily certain of that, or appreciative; I felt taxed, overburdened, and aggravated and couldn’t see much past those feelings. I alerted my partners before I got home that I was in a state. They were careful with me when I got home. I took my medication, managed needed calories, shared hugs and some quiet conversation, and took care of me. The evening ended well – no tantrum, no tirade of bitter invective, no total loss of inhibition resulting in vile things being said that just didn’t need speaking… it was a fairly ordinary quiet night, each of us involved in our own experience, gentle on each other. I call it a success, after the fact, regardless how it felt in the moment. ūüôā

We view "reality" through the veil of our own experience, our thoughts, our very individual understanding of what we see.

We view “reality” through the veil of our own experience, our thoughts, our very individual understanding of what we see.

I slept well, woke to the alarm, and feel okay this morning. I am sometimes both irritated and astonished at how much my¬†physical experience weighs in on¬†my¬†emotional life: well-managed blood sugar, medication, pain management, enough sleep, good hygiene, regular exercise, a satisfying sex life… these things may very well have more to do with my general emotional climate than any moment of my life, however delightful or traumatic, actually has long-term. That seems odd to me, and¬†worth being mindful of.

In the background I’m fussing with something that bothers me; it’s a small thing. I shared something emotionally relevant with a partner…and wasn’t heard. Or didn’t feel heard. I said words, and the reply clearly indicated a lack of understanding of the significance of what I shared, to me. Trying to explain started things down a difficult path, so I let it drop; few things are less pleasant than romantic tension over something that feels incredibly powerfully positive. lol. Not worth it. Still, my brain returns to the moment again and again, wondering how it is that the significance – or at least some appreciation of the observation, if not actual understanding – was so easily missed. It left me feeling somewhat disconnected from my partner in the moment. I am often surprised at the subtle differences in what I value and understand as valuable, and what others around me find similarly worthy. Still…it was only a moment.

It’s another day. A new one. Today is a day that holds all the potential of any day. Today is a day open to possibilities and filled with opportunity. Today is a day when a smile really matters, and a vote counts. Today is a day to speak simple truths, and recognize that whether someone is listening isn’t relevant to what is spoken, itself. Today is a day to listen carefully. Today… is a good day.

I like communication. I think most of us probably enjoy it, or some aspect of it. My favorite, as much as I enjoy words and talking and writing, is being heard. ¬†I’d be surprised in that weren’t true of most people, but I’m not ‘most people’ in a lot of ways, so I likely shouldn’t go out on that limb. ūüôā ¬†I do enjoy being heard, however I have a lot to learn about listening; this is another statement I suspect is true of a lot of people, just based on observation.

It is a journey taken one step at a time.

It is a journey taken one step at a time.

I’ve noticed something strange…people who don’t feel heard are generally not listening (at least at that point at which they feel they are not being heard, themselves). ¬†“Communication” so easily turns into tit-for-tat bullshit that there are actually enough books written about communication as a subject to fill a library without help from any other topic. Amazon has 339,665 books on “communication” across a variety of subtopics, such as “communication skills” (very popular, right at the top) and¬†“law” (which I suppose gets involved when communication goes seriously awry). ¬†Human primates work hard to communicate – hell, we created language to facilitate that! We consider both verbal and non verbal forms of communication when we discuss language, and make a big deal over one versus the other, and when it is appropriate to use them, and how to interpret them. We make rules about communication and set up hierarchies of information to sort fact from fiction, lies from well-intended misstatements based on erroneous beliefs, and novels from religious tomes. Us versus them. We get our emotions involved. All that fuss and effort –¬†and we’re still communicating poorly, and taking shit personally based on untested assumptions, and expectations that source from fictions in our own heads.

Part of my own challenge in communication rests on the distinction between ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’. You, too? Have you ever been in a heated discussion, or contentious meeting, and rather than actually listening with awareness to the speaker of the moment, you were investing time in formulating a reply – to something you heard moments ago, or something you are only half listening to in the moment? It’s a poor practice. I can make that assertion comfortably, feeling pretty sure you’ll agree with me – all I have to do is make that observation from the vantage point of the disregarded speaker, themselves. We’ve all been there – making a point that matters to us, doing our best to be clear, concise, and hold the attention of our listener, and… aware that we are not actually ‘being heard’; the vaguely distracted facial expression, and loss of eye contact, or lack of focused gaze, are a hint – the real giveaway is when our listener begins to reply or rebut, and it is apparent they are not speaking to the salient points at all, they are just downloading what they spent time considering – while you were talking. They weren’t listening, they were waiting for their turn. Awkward. Rude. Ineffective communication. It’s so easy, though, to get wrapped up in what feels like matters the most – and lose awareness that what actually matters most is listening while someone is talking. ¬†It gets more complicated if the person talking is an unqualified asshat, I get it, or espousing views that are “offensive” or inflammatory. That’s hard to take. Perhaps in that scenario the more effective communication is to say frankly that there is offense, or express clearly and simply that the information is in some way unacceptable¬†– then disengage without further rebuttal or reply? (Is every battle mine? lol I’ve been making some different choices, lately, myself).

Deceit, treachery, willfully misleading someone, treating them poorly or bullying them with language; my perspective is that these things are not good uses of communication between honorable beings making compassionate choices, and treating people well. We don’t always make our best choices in the moment, though, do we? It’s easy for a person, in a moment of anger, to be willfully cruel, or in a moment of frustration to be impatient or callous. We’re all very human.

I dislike imprecise communication, particularly regarding emotion. I’m not always good at it, myself, and I practice some things I find key, and I do so in a very planned and studied way. The things I put that kind of structured emphasis on are simple enough. I practice communicating willfully in words¬†– for me this means moving gently through physical space, and not using my body to communicate strong emotion instead of using words; no deliberate slamming or banging of cupboards, doors, drawers, etc to communicate distress or anger. It’s very upsetting and imprecise, and it tends (in my own experience) to foster panic, anxiety, and insecurity in the human herd without truly communicating anything with accuracy, or¬†honesty. It seems mean, and it causes¬†considerable extra wear and tear on household goods. ¬†(Do you slam shit when you’re mad? Why do you do it? What does that satisfy for you? I’ve been there, but I can’t say I find anything of lasting value in that method of communicating; I gave it up in principle some time ago.) I won’t claim any mastery; I practice continuously whether I am upset or not. ¬†The other key practice is listening, really attending to the words another person is taking time to share with me, without being distracted by the pressure of my own desire to speak and be heard, or caving to some need-in-the-moment to challenge or disagree. It’s very difficult¬†for me – the disinhibition issues I struggle with often get in the way; practicing is very important for reinforcing better habits. Not interrupting people is a good start on a basic level. (I am so not there yet! I work at it every day.) It matters that much to me, that people speaking with me feel heard.

It was slow going to reach a place where I understand that because I desire to be heard, learning to listen is critically important. It was also a struggle to reach a place where I understand that communicating emotions is not about pushing the visceral experience of strong emotion into the consciousness of other human beings against their will, or without their consent; it is about using gentle words, clearly and simply, while allowing that other consciousness to continue to have its own experience. There’s a lot of practice ahead of me. The day I realized I am practicing these qualities and behaviors because they are who I want most to be – and by intention, who I am – I became so much more able to step back from frustrations built around ‘I will when they do’ and ‘they don’t so why should I?’ or issues of unfairness, and suddenly I felt more heard – because I am listening to my own voice. That matters, too. So often it has turned out the person not listening to me, is me.

Savoring each precious moment through awareness is a nice place to start a journey of discovery.

Savoring each precious moment through awareness is a nice place to start a journey of discovery.

Some rambling notes on communication early on a Tuesday morning. It’s a good day to communicate with love, and with great attention. It’s a good day to really hear the message I am¬†sharing with the world, from the world’s perspective. It’s a good day to be kind, and to treat others with courtesy – not because they deserve it, but because it is who I am. Today is a good day to change the world.

It’s an expression that’s come up a couple of times in a variety of conversations – one of them was even about flight safety on an air craft, but that’s by far the exception. Generally I hear something about ‘putting your own oxygen mask on first’ as a metaphor, delivered in the context of a conversation relevant to taking care of one’s self, and whether doing so is ‘selfish’ or necessary. Logically, of course, it isn’t ever ‘necessary’ to take care of myself, not even at all; the necessity of it is related to the desired outcome.

Large numbers of human beings manage to get through what amounts to a lifetime without ever really taking care of themselves, their own needs, the needs of their heart, mind, body, or soul. ¬†Some number of those people are in exploitative relationships that may have some symbiotic qualities; they get some return on investment in met needs, that sustains them over time and makes life endurable, or profitable. Others are simply used up, eventually, and cast aside. Some invest heavily of themselves without regret, in the lives and needs of others, and find their sustenance therein; lives of service, contemplation, or consecration to a cause are not without value. Aside from the logic, and obviousness, that taking care of me isn’t an absolute necessity… I’ve got to admit that the quality of my everyday experience of life, of love, of me, myself, is much improved by taking care of me. Learning to be emotionally self-sufficient seems a valuable next step.

The puzzles get more complicated as life’s lessons become more advanced. When faced with complicated moments, challenging decisions, and uncertainty – what’s the key point? What can I balance all the rest on and be assured that my choices and decision-making have a firm foundation in both reality and my values? That’s generally when it comes up…’put your own oxygen mask on first’. In a crisis on an aircraft, they always say it specifically regarding taking care of young, ill, or injured passengers; the most vulnerable among us. “Put your own oxygen mask on first.” Well sure – because if I fail to do so ‘in time’, I could lose consciousness and be unable to help others. That matters. Among those others I would then be unable to help? Yep. Me.

Knowing that I need to ‘put my own oxygen mask on first’ doesn’t always make putting verbs in action a whole lot easier…but it gives me something to count on, a starting point that is a reliable best practice. It complicates matters that this particular aircraft (to continue the metaphor) is just packed to the rooftop¬†with people and things I love. Some choices can wait, and forcing decision-making isn’t necessary; events unfold whether I make choices or not, and that is also something I can rely on. Taking care of me is still my highest priority, generally; my unique issues and challenges require I not lose focus on it, no one else has the same understanding of my needs. Today life’s curriculum seems to be about learning to balance taking care of me, and holding the needs of dear ones close to me, preserving good intentions, acting on the best of my will, following practices of non-harm – of myself as well as others – and being mindful that although we are all connected and interdependent, all ‘in this together’, we are also very much having our own experience.

Honest is never enough, there’s also Kind to consider. ¬†Love so often feels like it ‘gives me everything’; Love is the most demanding of emotions, and requires the best of me to thrive. Life sometimes feels like an endurance race – when I feel as if¬†there is a ‘finish line’, a time commitment, or urgency, I’ve generally been blown off course, somewhere; mindfulness practices are still the most powerful Rx I’ve had, and practiced from a place of compassion and love, easily ‘bring me home’ to the only moment in which change is possible. Some days doing my best, directed outwardly toward the world, just isn’t going to meet the needs I have myself.

Each time for the first time, each moment, the only moment...

Each time for the first time, each moment, the only moment…

Today is a good day to put my own oxygen mask on first. Today is a good day to change the world.