The Power of Listening
During my days as a high school English teacher, our department had four main goals for student learning: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
As a naïve 20-something newbie, I remember feeling intrigued and confused by the last one: LISTENING.
Did listening actually have to be taught?
If so, how?
And of all the skills to teach, how did this one make the top four?
But now, as a 37 yr old lonely, occasionally depressed stay-at-home mother, I long to be surrounded by real listeners, and I now get how rare they actually are.
Since the horrific death of George Floyd, my teachers are all talking about this mysterious skill – LISTENING. Many of them no longer posting their own perceptions of reality, but handing their mics over to BIPOC who are dying for us to have a listen to what things have been like from their side of the invisible wall that keeps us separate.
I have hope that many of us have been shaken enough to, at least for awhile, step over to the wall, open the window, and really listen to what’s going on over there.
Last week, ironically but not surprisingly, as I am considering this skill of listening, I found myself in an uncomfortable disagreement with a woman whom I’ve had tension with since we first met.
Truthfully, I am jealous.
She radiated confidence, inner resilience and self-assuredness at a time when I was weak, fatigued, insecure, and unable to make complete sentences. This jealousy causing me, embarrassingly, to be her #1 silent critic from afar.
Most recently, we had a text exchange that threw me over the freaking edge. I responded to her curtly with an “okay, no problem.”
You know, the perfect “I’m pissed but I’m not really going to say it” text.
To which she replied “Can we talk?”
This was the moment we’d all be waiting for.
I gave myself a few days to get my head straight, to really feel into WHAT it was that made me so upset about our interactions. And then, with shaky hands and a racing heart, I called her.
She was ready to listen.
And once I started talking, it all just fell out. All of the ways I felt her judging me, not accepting me for who I really am: the many ways that she made me feel on edge and insecure and as if I was not enough.
“Are you done?” she asked, listening intently.
“I thiiiink so,” I stammered anxiously.
To my great surprise, she started laughing.
“This is so funny,” she said. “Because I feel really judged by you, too.”
She went on to tell me her perceptions of me, from the other side of the invisible wall. How she felt me looking down upon the way that she went through the world and how shitty it felt to her, too.
As the truth came out, it became apparently clear that everything I couldn’t stand about her were traits that I had not made peace with about my own behaviors, habits, and inner gifts.
The unreal stories my mind was telling about her melted away as the REAL story of her experience poured out.
My heart opened.
My eyes cleared.
And I began to see her – the real her – for the first time.
All because of listening.
While this conversation was super uncomfortable, it allowed me to see MY blindspots and MY judgements instead of blaming and shaming the unreal "other" who is my friend.
The art of listening is not glamorous.
No one gets major credit or Facebook likes or publicity for being an observer, a witness, for remaining curious and non-judgmental. Well, except for the Dalia Lama or Jesus perhaps.
But my favorite people on this planet are the ones who listen, with curiosity, to what it’s like to be me. To wonder what it's like to live in this skin, with this past, these emotions and insecurities and passions.
This experience has inspired me to be a fervent listener during this time. To open my mind to podcasts, documentaries, books and people that I don’t normally listen to. To be curious. To question my thoughts. To better understand. To crawl into another’s skin and walk around in it as Atticus Finch suggested.
I have been humbled and inspired, saddened and hopeful.
I want to know who is on the other side of the wall of my white privilege. I want to know what it’s like to be them. This feels like the natural first step to seeing our oneness and to moving forward together.
While I know that there is no way I will ever be able to dismantle the centuries of pain that BIPOC experience, I am not giving up on doing my part. I believe that we change this universe one small act, relationship, conversation, and connection at a time.
In hopes that it might be of service, I’m sharing my most recent process (inspired by Rev. Michael Beckwith) below:
FEEL: let your initial big emotions move through you however they’d like. What’s working for me now is verbally processing with friends and mentors that I feel safe with, going on nature walks, journaling, and moving my body.
PRAY: if you feel deep in your bones that you want to be part of this movement toward healing racial wounds, ask to be shown how YOU personally can be of service. Let the Divine GUIDE you instead of your guilt and fear.
LISTEN: Keep your eyes, ears and heart open to the people, books, podcasts, groups, etc. that you intuitively feel drawn toward. Trust your inner guide to show you what is yours to do.
TRUST in your IMPACT no matter how small: what you say to your kids, how you treat BIPOC in front of them, what you’re talking about, listening to, supporting, etc. ALL create universal waves in the pool of our collective consciousness. You matter.
KEEP THE FAITH: As Jesus says, faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. Notice the changes you are seeing. Notice people coming together. Imagine the future you are longing for and know that this, too, has a powerful impact on the whole.
Here are the resources that are helping me right now:
- Short, straight-forward series of 14 podcasts on Seeing White: https://www.sceneonradio.org/seeing-white/
- Woman run, year-long body-based book study on dismantling the inner realms of racism: https://www.rootedandembodied.com/somatic-abolitionism-12-month-study?fbclid=IwAR2T9Qr9mHtPoI3YXRCdbgkg32O7NKHvsX6DPVLF2PrdIuYpfTHvNm1_zVw
- 13th: A Netflix Documentary on understanding the history of black-based mass incarcerations: https://www.netflix.com/title/80091741
Tomorrow we join to practice making our minds stretchier through bodily movement so that we can practice inner listening, as yoga teaches that all changes start from within. Listening is one of the most powerful reasons to come to the mat. As we get to know ourselves better, we can better understand and empathize with those around us.
As always, I invite you into conversation with me as I navigate these unstable waters of speaking more clearly about tender issues and dismantling ourselves from the systems that are harming us individually and collectively. I know that I am not perfect and have plenty of blindspots. Feel free to reply to me personally if you are seeing any of them.
With love and humility,
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Yoga Teacher and Student, Speaker, Writer, Mother, Wife, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Human