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my musings

Are you listening?


Last week my meditation teacher told me I was stubborn and wasn’t listening. She had told me this before but last week she said it in a way that broke through somehow. At first what I noticed was hot angry defensive tears. Immediate fearful thoughts of “Why doesn’t she like me?” “She thinks I’m dumb.” “She doesn’t want to work with me anymore. I’m failing her.” “She is going to leave me.” And then, angry thoughts took over. “Why should she talk to me like that?” “What kind of teacher is she?” “She doesn’t know me at all.” “She is wrong. She’s actually crazy, does she even have a degree?” Self protective thoughts jumped into the chorus. “I’m never talking to her again. I’m going to quit.”  And then, “Meditation is probably the problem. It’s stupid and a waste of time.” (Obviously, I uninvited both her and meditation from my birthday party). And then the self righteous thoughts marched in right on cue. “I’m smart and I know things!” “I get PAID to listen. I listen all day, every day.” “I’m the best listener. Quite the expert really. No one listens better than me.” “She was the one not listening.”.Phew, I feel a little better now. Only, I observed, I didn't. 



I watched as my sweet monkey brain spun around in these feelings and thoughts at lightning speed.  They churned in me, old emotional truths from who knows when sending my nervous system into a state of reactivity.   My body was flooded with the feelings of being rejected. My heart heavy, stomach churning. All because she said I wasn’t listening. 


Not listening. That’s ridiculous. 


And then, it hit me. Clarity. 


She was right. I wasn’t listening. What I was doing was interpreting, assuming, thinking, remembering, projecting, making things up, defending, twisting, trying, trying, TRYING to understand. But I wasn't listening. I saw my reactions go from hurt, to defensive, to angry, to blaming, to “knowing”. A cycle I bet we can all relate to if we are truly honest and observe ourselves with compassion. Doing all those things are certainly involved with making sense and communicating and interacting. But they aren't “listening.” 


Listening is pure. It is what a mirror does to an image. It simply absorbs the image and holds it. Nothing more. Everything beyond that is a function of human interaction and is a step, or many steps, removed from the actual thing being said. 


She said I wasn’t listening. That is all. And I wasn’t. Everything else happened in my own head. And what a roller coaster!


I had time to watch this unfold and be aware. I had time to practice awareness and as I did I watched my feelings move from defensive and hurt and angry to excited, grateful and eager to tell her what I noticed and to listen some more. Let me be clear, I wasn’t “wrong” in my reactions. Her words did actually trigger emotional memories in me. And they were painful, and I didnt like them. But my awareness allowed that to be separate from what she said, or what she intended or what she was trying to communicate. 


What if we had that same awareness while we were in communication with others in our lives (ahem, partners). What if when they said something, anything, we were able to hold a separateness between ourself and them, between our reactions and their words, between their intentions and our feelings. They all matter, they are all “real”, meaning they exist in my experience, but they are not “real” in that they have any meaning at all with regard to what she actually said. It’s complicated. It’s layered.  It’s a labyrinth. But to move gracefully I have to have awareness. 


I hear her saying these words and I observe myself having this reaction. Isn’t that interesting? Those two things are separate. What might I say to the other person if I know about this separateness. What if I don’t? 


True listening might just be one of the hardest communication skills. Listening in which we attend with interest, curiosity, openness, and patience to what the other person is saying. Where we are not trying to be one step ahead in defending our own experience. Where we are not filling in blanks with our preconceived notions or beliefs. Where we are not creating a self serving subjective interpretation of the other person's intentions, motivations, feelings, and experiences. But instead, where we are simply receptive to holding another persons words. Fully and non-defensively.


So the next time someone accuses you of not listening, go ahead and uninvite them to your birthday party. Then take a slow and patient breath and say "Your right." Because they probably are. And we could all use the reminder.


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