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Listen - Silent

Listen Up Love

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I love a paradox. LISTEN and SILENT are words made from the same letters, arranged in a different order. They have more than their constituent letters in common. They contain each other. The paradox of deep listening is that it creates connection and not distance in the space it makes.

Listening requires silence. Silence calls forth listening.

A koan contains a thought-provoking riddle. Often it includes a paradox, an unanswered question, a rhetorical question, or a conundrum. The koan that says, “What’s lost in the river is also found in the river” springs to mind now.

We’re living in a world that is queuing to speak. We have scripts for joining what you said to what I want to say with phrases like ‘that reminds me of…’, ‘that’s nothing … you should hear this’ or ‘yes, but…’. There are many familiar conversation devices like this.

I’m not sure where we got the idea that we are not in the conversation unless we are talking? I like the lessons we can learn from introverts about listening. In my experience, introverts are worth listening to.

I have a sticky note above my desk. It says “WAIT?” It is an acronym for Why Am I Talking? I’m supporting myself to change and interrupt my legacy pattern of storyteller, consultant, and entertainer. Before I was this ‘happy chatter’, I was mute. Or thereabouts. For years I didn’t speak in groups. At a school reunion someone said, “Oh, I see you found your voice”. This is not always a good thing. Honesty can be, well, prickly. Friends I’ve made in adulthood know nothing of the girl once paralyzingly shy.

So, I’m hoping this next phase in skilful listening, is something between nothing and everything. The idea that “our goals are melting”, because what we need and want changes as we do, allows me this growth.

I am a work in progress.

What I’m coming to understand in coaching is that my heart (as much as my brain) has given me my listening ears. I want to hear what’s being said. And what’s not being said. I am okay to risk being uncomfortable and not-knowing how to respond. I want to stay curious and humble. I want to be surprised. It’s a good way to live. And the bonus is, I’m learning more. About myself and about others. I’m also less stressed about feeling like I must know the answer. In reality, the client has to find their answers. And the fastest results happen when I listen, and reflect back what I am hearing.

Being listened to and feeling heard changes so much. Hearing ourselves think changes to much.

I had a profound experience of being listened to that has stayed with me since. It relates to when we (eventually) got married. We’d lived together for 7 years (plus or minus, it was long ago) already by then, and no-one (including me) was sure that we’d ever make it official. I liked the freedom and responsibility this unscripted consensual togetherness implied. In the end, we agreed (and negotiated) a service with a Catholic Priest officiating alongside a Presbyterian minister. We followed that official almost-by-the-book bit of the day with a Buddhist blessing in a Zen garden.

The (one) person who asked us why we were choosing to get married was the ordained Buddhist who officiated the blessing. When he asked us why we were choosing to do this marriage thing, he listened so deeply and patiently that he slowed down time. He had mastered something in his open curiosity that marked such a change from my ordinary experience, I remember it still today. The walls bent in to hear what we might say. With that quality of listening, I felt I could tell the truth. Which, of course, I had to go and find within myself first.

I remember the gift of that experience. How it calmed down something (like panic and frustration) within me. And I like to think of it as my ideal and my aim, to be able to offer that gift to others.

I am a work in progress.

It gets tricky when we talk about listening to ourselves. Listening to the inside me.

That sort of listening is necessary if we want to take back the authorship of our lives. It’s required if we want to take back ourselves (from whatever cause, from whoever else’s agenda and from whenever we lost connection). This calibre of listening is demanded for lives infused with authenticity and integrity. We need to listen to ourselves to have access to the strength that inner truth gives us.  Listening points us in the direction of our work and our resources. Conducting an opinion poll with our nearest and dearest can be a way of giving up agency and surrendering our locus of control.

Listening to our dreams is important work.

In setting our purpose and vision, I really like what Kute Blackson said in the Best Year of Your Life 2022 online summit. Kute talked about distraction being an obstacle and us ‘playing the game of confusion’.  He reminds us that ‘deep down we know’ and he urges us to start with any resolutions by telling ourselves the truth. He urges us not to lie to ourselves and not to rationalise out of fear. Sage advice.

That sort of honesty can feel pretty scary.

I’ve found this in my own life. When we stay in the noise, it’s an existence that’s more about (the art of) distraction. It’s a way of being that ignores gnawing restlessness. But it’s not named as such. We use other words. Busy. Exhausted. Full on living. This noisy way of being shows up in my inner conversations when I have been talking down the panic within, or spent time justifying, tolerating, and explaining away.

Those conversations, with myself or others, have a sense of obligation about them. They use words like ‘should’, ‘must’ and ‘have to’. They are safely distanced from the truths hidden in my heart.

Sadly, the person I wasn’t listening to for a long time was myself.

For me that manifested as a lack of connection and as numbness. I got to the point of ‘I don’t know how to fix this’. I like to think now that I had just run out of rational road. It was time to turn towards some of my other options, like my gut instinct for truth and my heart’s longings.

When difficult emotions are at play, it can be downright painful. Eventually, our body speaks and quite often by then it’s in pain or experiencing dis-ease. Pain is a messenger and can be a blessing. I used to think that pain required some sort of cure, domination and (hopefully quick) fix.

Now I think that pain invites curiosity. Curiosity plus listening can equal needed change.

Likewise, discomfort invites attention. And listening with intention.

I think that the mind-body is one big listening partnership. An ongoing conversation of asking into the space, listening from the space, coming upon the insights and so on.

Like the koan at the beginning of the blog said, the things that I lost in the river, I have also found in the river. For me, my body was the river. In a discussion with a client this week I put into words a truth that I hadn’t yet got hold of in such a concrete way before. This truth was that things really started to change fast and to progress towards my dreams when I reconnected with myself.

The way that I did this was through the physical body. I swam in cold water, I worked in the garden, and I walked the earth. I asked myself questions. I gave myself permission to not know the answer. My brain was delighted. It was exhausted!

But my body was still listening. Listening with those heart ears. Listening with intention. Listening in a way that was compassionate and curious, turning no truth away. As I listened, I processed this conversation through journaling.  

Yes, there are challenges inherent in listening. It feels very different from hearing. It takes space, time and intention. It takes the humility and freedom of the sometimes illusive ‘beginner’s mind’. It is slower. It is present. We start by making that space and time. We protect that space by scheduling it, silencing the alarms and notifications. Staying connected to our intentions we remain open to ourselves or the other. Remain curious. Keep listening. Connect with support – the friendship circle that listens. Create your own support in journal pages waiting white each day.

And practice.

It takes practice. Practice (the noun) and practise (the verb).

Feel free to share your thoughts on listening or on being heard in the comments section below. I am practising listening

#listen #silent #paradox #space #coachingconversations #kuteblackson #bestyearofyourlife

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Andrea

    I wonder why it is that we so often choose to ignore what the river of the body is saying?
    The lack of sleep, the aching gut…screaming to me many times, many times ignored…
    But now I feel like I am listening more. I heard what I needed to hear about changing a work situation. I heard what is right for my precious dog…
    I am definitely a work in progress

  2. Bronwen Allan

    That sounds like courageous listening.

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