Thoughts on Listening

Poor planning has left me a bit behind schedule with some of the the things I’m working on. As a result, I’m reusing my August 2015 #1000Speak post today, partially because I missed writing one this month,  and partially because I’ve been thinking again about the overwhelming lack of polite (read “rational”) discourse about pretty much anything, and it’s disturbing how we seem to have stopped listening (or only listening long enough to get our own point across). That (very human) tendency only serves to further divide, and makes compassion difficult, and empathy all but impossible. Instead of listening to find an opening for a response, think of how much better off we’d be if we simply listened, and really thought before responding – or realized that sometimes no response is necessary.

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

— Anonymous (but with many unconfirmed attributions to Robert McClosky – not the children’s author, a State Department spokesman during the Vietnamese War in the late 1960’s)

When I first started planning what to write for this month’s  #1000Speak post on listening, the quote above popped into my head. An old favorite from my youth (I think I may have first encountered it in an Art Buchwald column at the time). It is, perhaps, not entirely in line with the compassion theme, but it serves to start off with a reminder that we often hear the words and not the intent, and in order to listen compassionately, we have to move beyond our natural tendency toward distracted listening.

The next thing that popped into my head, and stayed there for days (oh, those pesky earworms) was Cat Stevens’ highly introspective, and very short, song, “The Wind”:

“I listen to the wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I’ll end up, well, I think
Only God really knows”

This is also, perhaps, not entirely relevant to a piece on compassionate listening, but it, too, has its place. Compassion has to start within us. And learning to be still and listen to ourselves will bring us closer to being able to do the same for others. It is true that if we are not listening to ourselves mindfully, and with compassion, we will never be able to listen to others compassionately. It sounds trite, but we have to understand ourselves before we can understand others. So, listen to that voice in your head, and occasionally the one in your heart, so that you can find your own equilibrium. That makes is much easier to simply live in a world inhabited by other people, and makes it possible to reach out. With a helping hand, or to take one.

“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”

— Margaret J. Wheatley

Hearing is passive, listening is active. We hear an overwhleming amount all day long. Those of us capable of hearing, are also incapable of turning it off. We are, in fact, bombarded by sounds, all of the time. Our brains, helpfully, do block out ‘normal’ sounds while we sleep – so that we can sleep – and they also filter sounds, in much the same way that they filter abundant visual stimulation, by deciding what’s relevant, and dialing back what isn’t (or hopefully isn’t).

Unfortunately, we also filter quite a bit, unconsciously, while listening also. This is very apparent when we listen while doing other things – we get distracted by email while on a conference call, or we are attempting to eat dinner while chatting with a friend on the phone, or we are trying to read while our children are talking to us about something that we have minimal interest in, or… There a veritable multitude that I’m guilty of and I know I’m not alone. Suddenly I realize that I have absolutely no idea what we are talking about – let alone why my opinion is necessary.

“So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.”

— Jiddu Krishnamurti

When we attempt to listen while doing other tasks, we often miss the intent, if not the actual words. When someone tells us they are tired, it could be simply a factual observation. Or it could mean that they’re bored (a common problem with teens). Or it could be indicative of an existential crisis. Or depression. Unless we are really listening – to the words as well as the tone, the underlying emotion – we may miss something important. Perhaps even an attempt to reach out.

“Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.”
— Henri J.M. Nouwen

But, we have another, more difficult, problem when listening. Part of our brain’s filtering, categorizing, and self-protective functions, includes keeping ‘me’ front and center. Even when we are listening attentively, we are still hearing through our own filters – our own experiences, prejudices, belief system. A co-worker’s spouse has gout? How did your Aunt Jane deal with hers? We are often listening more with an ear out for how to respond. Even if our intent is sympathy, understanding, common ground, it is still making the listening about us, not about the person we’re listening to. Many times all that is needed is someone to listen. Not to offer advice, not to commiserate. Just to listen. This is perhaps hardest of all. Part of our desire to connect leads us to seek out a common thread that we can respond with, but that comes from our own desire. Ask if there’s anything we can do, if that’s appropriate, and sincere, but don’t preface the offer with a commentary about Aunt Jane’s gout, or your problems with morning sickness during your second trimester.

Don’t multi-task, try to take your own experiences out of the equation, and just listen. Something that is increasingly difficult to do in our highly electronic, multi-tasking oriented world, but it is necessary to try as we continue our efforts to make our corner of the universe a better, more compassionate place.

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Featured Image -- 322

To add your voice to the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, please check out the Facebook group here.

Photo of the Hudson River looking north from the Walkway Over the Hudson circa November 2014

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Tuesday’s Quotes January 9, 2018 – Stephen Hawking

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.
It matters that you don’t just give up.” — Stephen Hawking, 2012

Words to live by from one of the greatest minds of our era.

Physicist Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with ALS at 21,  turned 76 yesterday. And indeed, it mattered that he didn’t just give up. In the past 50 years, he has done an impressive amount of work in cosmology and physics -especially with the understanding of black holes.

In belated honor of his birthday, I’ve (re)shared the concluding lines from the speech he’d prepared to deliver at Cambridge at an event honoring  his 70th birthday, which he, unfortunately, was unable to attend.

Image from NASA of composite x-ray of gas emanating from a black hole at the center of the NGC 1068 galaxy, borrowed from National Geographic at http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/photos/black-holes-gallery/#/black-hole-wind_840_600x450.jpg

Tuesday’s Quotes – November 7, 2017 – Election Day

“As heirs to a legacy more than two centuries old, it is understandable why present-day Americans would take their own democracy for granted. A president freely chosen from a wide-open field of two men every four years; a Congress with a 99% incumbency rate; a Supreme Court comprised of nine politically appointed judges whose only oversight is the icy scythe of Death — all these reveal a system fully capable of maintaining itself. But our perfect democracy, which neither needs nor particularly wants voters, is a rarity. It is important to remember there still exist other forms of government in the world today, and that dozens of foreign countries still long for a democracy such as ours to be imposed on them.”
— Jon Stewart, “America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction”

Yes, I know off-cycle elections aren’t very exciting for most of us, but keeping abreast of local politics, and participating, is actually the only way to understand what’s gone wrong at the state and national levels.

So, if you are eligible to vote, and have an election happening in your area – please get out there and VOTE!

We’re 3 years old!

 

“I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading: It vexes me to choose another guide.”

–Emily Brontë

It’s very hard for me to believe, but Time for my thoughts passed its third birthday  this past Friday (& yes, I did miss it – I’m terrible with anniversaries). It was September 1, 2014 when I published my first post. It wasn’t particularly interesting or profound, but there it was – written & sent out into the ether for someone to see. Of course, the initial someone was my elder daughter, who said she could hear my voice in her head while she was reading and found it disconcerting. For my part – that was great news. I’d quite literally found my voice! Which is good – it’s much easier for me to write that way. She says she still can, and it still is disconcerting, so if nothing else, I’ve managed to stay true to myself & made the blog’s chosen name more meaningful. Even if I’m keeping my voice in my daughter’s head from halfway around the globe.

I’ve continued to learn over the past year, and, as usual, some things I’ve chosen to disregard, others I’ve incorporated. I’ve gained a surprising number of new followers, and I’ve most likely lost a few more, too, but it would be strange if I didn’t. Some of the bloggers I had been interacting with are no longer blogging, which is unfortunate, but we all need to go where our own paths take us. I’ve never expected a huge following, and to me, my current number is pretty huge considering the fact that my blog is really all about me – Time for my thoughts pretty much spells it out – and I’m not a high-volume blogger (too many competing priorities). I, admittedly, like to see the numbers rise, and am a bit disappointed on a day that has no views, although most days do manage to have one or two. I don’t publish every day simply because I don’t want to make the time – I have a fairly demanding job, a part-time volunteer job, a retired spouse, a teenager still at home, other projects, and a need to make sure that whatever I’m writing is accurate (poorly proofread, perhaps, but accurate), and now we’re also trying to get our house finally ready to sell, and sifting through our post-sale option. My family copes well with my assorted writing endeavors, but it’s nice to have some family time sometimes, too. And some downtime for me occasionally is also helpful.

My current posting schedule still works for me most weeks, so I’ll stick with it for now. Sometimes it isn’t easy to stick to a schedule (and days like this my posts are written quite late), but out of all that I learned in Blogging U that first year, I think it may be the most important. I’ve come to realize that nonfiction works best for me in a blog, so I’ll continue to trudge down that path – although reality lately has often been stranger than fiction. I’m a poor planner, and am not likely to change, so most things that I write will continue to be written on the fly. I do plan to continue with the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion posts each month most months – even though it is no longer following a formal schedule, I still think it’s a wonderful idea, and pushing myself to focus on compassion once a month helps me stay balanced during the rest of the month. I’ll continue to keep those posts close to the 20th just to make sure that I really get the posts written (deadlines: sometimes I really need them).

I’m still wary of social networking. I still have no clue what Google+ is for, so its pretty much exclusively for Time for my thoughts, I’ve recently become a bit more active on Twitter – but 140 characters are hard to work with,  my only Facebook account is my personal one – and one of the reasons I started the blog was to be able to expand on my views somewhere not in Facebook. If I ever find the energy to become a power blogger, I’ll reconsider Facebook. But I am still thinking about grabbing the timeformythoughts URL since it’s still available and I’m still blogging. If anyone has any suggestions/comments/experiences to share about that, they would be much appreciated.

Thank you for reading and, especially, for  continuing to share your thoughts with me, as I continue on my journey down my own path, and I hope to never forget this wise advice from Albert Einstein:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Photo take July 4, 2017 from the Walkway Over The Hudson.

 

Love a label? Finding compassion among the silos…

A couple of recent conversations with my younger daughter brought this post – originally published on October 19, 2015 – into my mind, so I’ve chosen to run it again as this month’s #1000Speak post & also as a potential conversation starter because I think, in some respects, it may be more relevant now than it was 20 months ago.

“As we grow in our consciousness, there will be more compassion and more love, and then the barriers between people, between religions, between nations will begin to fall. Yes, we have to beat down the separateness.”
— Ram Dass

Recently a headline that I barely glanced at somehow infiltrated my subconscious and stuck there. And got me thinking about how our human need to identify with a group, and still somehow distinguish ourselves, may be making it harder for others to relate to us a people. Compassion is still possible. Compassion is always possible. But empathy? Empathy is harder to attain when dealing with such narrowly defined labels. Especially when those labels are often guarded so militantly.

“‘Pansexual’ Rises on National Coming Out Day” read the headline. Um, well, okay. I personally think that National Coming Out Day is a good idea – I think it’s important for people to be honest about who they are, and if having a dedicated date to do that makes it easier to do, then that’s all that matters.  It was the ‘pansexual’ label that drew me in. Perhaps because the adult  daughter of a friend varies her sexual-orientation label with quite a bit of flexibility. She is, primarily, lesbian. Sometimes she identifies herself as asexual. Or bisexual. And that’s okay, too, I think, but I do worry that sometimes she seems to assume that others just instinctively know where she is, and is annoyed that they don’t get it. Yeah, there’s surely more than a bit of drama here, which I think her friends mostly ignore, but it does make me wonder whether she ever feels isolated because of her strong need to label herself. But this problem of labels is one that exists far beyond sexual-orientation labels.

The notion that humans need to identify as a part of a group more specific than ‘human’ is well established. We identify by nationality, ethnicity, gender, color, religious affiliations, occupations, hobbies, sexual orientation, class, political views – and winnow it down further by subcategories within those groups. But we modern, westernized, humans have also developed a strong need to be seen as unique. The result seems to be that we seek increasingly fine-tuned labels because we want to make sure that no part of our individuality is missed, while at the same time needing those labels to help us find others that are more like us.

But group identification, and highly individualized labels, while helping us find our place in society and providing us some measure of support can leave us more isolated as well. Just when it’s possible that we need more love and compassion, we may find it more difficult to obtain.

One of the more unfortunate aspects of human behavior, rooted deep in our survival instincts, is a fear of that which is not us. We instinctively distrust ‘different’, just as we instinctively move toward ‘like’. This protects us from obvious predators, and from warring tribes, but does little for us in our day to day interactions. For the most part, we have those instinctive reactions so well in hand that we barely notice them, and they don’t prevent us from navigating through our lives, but they do lie at the base of our prejudices, and, occasionally, irrational dislike of people that we just met.

Each additional layer of group identification adds to those things that are different, or that fall outside of our range of tolerance. Or the tolerance limits of one or more of the groups that we identify with. Sometimes when we wholly embrace the views of a group, we end up cutting ourselves off not only from the larger society around us, but possibly from our families and friends.

I think our ability to be compassionate with those outside our silos is often limited because we confuse empathy and compassion, and we do not always understand that love can exist without a personal relationship.

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another”

— Thomas Merton

Compassion and love go hand in hand. Compassion can, and should, be taught. We recognize the suffering of others, and feel the compulsion to act. Love in this sense can also be taught, I think, for it is the love of our fellow beings, and animals, as well, that enables compassion and the desire and willingness to act in some way to alleviate the suffering of others. Empathy, which requires a way of relating to the others that cannot be taught – it requires a shared experience, or a natural ability that is possessed by few. Empathy can be particularly difficult when our own micro-universes keep us removed from those outside, but since we can feel love and compassion regardless of how narrowly we define ourselves, there should be no impediment.

And yet, in a somewhat ironic turn, the continual shrinking of the world at large seems to lead to a magnification of our differences. That magnification fuels fear, which fuels hate. So rather than an increasing globalization leading us to see each other as the same, we are focusing more on our differences. In order to move to a more compassionate, and peaceful, world, we need to open up our minds to the simple reality that we are all humans. To understand that we all are trying to make our way through this life as best we can, and that all of us need help and support from time to time. And that love and respect are something that we all need. And deserve.

“Without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear, we are truly free.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

Do I have an answer? No, and there is no simple solution. But we all need to challenge ourselves to push past our preconceptions and prejudices – to suppress that urge to react to the different instead of interacting with it.

As I was writing this, possibly apropos of nothing, possibly in a sudden burst of insight, this quote from HG Wells came into my head and refused to leave:

“Sometimes, you have to step outside of the person you’ve been and remember the person you were meant to be. The person you want to be. The person you are.”

Perhaps if we all remembered, and became, the person we are, instead of being consumed by the person we’ve become, the world really would be a more compassionate place.

Thoughts on Listening

Very unoriginal this month, I fear. I’ve been giving a great deal of thought recently to the overwhelming lack of polite discourse (particularly political, but not limited to politics), and it’s disturbing how we seem to have stopped listening (or only listening long enough to get our own point across). That (very human) tendency only serves to further divide, and makes compassion difficult, and empathy all but impossible. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, I’ve dusted off my August 2015 themed post on Listening. Instead of listening to find an opening for a response, think of how much better off we’d be if we simply listened, and really thought before responding – or realized that sometimes no response is necessary.

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

— Anonymous (but with many unconfirmed attributions to Robert McClosky – not the children’s author, a State Department spokesman during the Vietnamese War in the late 1960’s)

When I first started planning what to write for this month’s  #1000Speak post on listening, the quote above popped into my head. An old favorite from my youth (I think I may have first encountered it in an Art Buchwald column at the time). It is, perhaps, not entirely in line with the compassion theme, but it serves to start off with a reminder that we often hear the words and not the intent, and in order to listen compassionately, we have to move beyond our natural tendency toward distracted listening.

The next thing that popped into my head, and stayed there for days (oh, those pesky earworms) was Cat Stevens’ highly introspective, and very short, song, “The Wind”:

“I listen to the wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I’ll end up, well, I think
Only God really knows”

This is also, perhaps, not entirely relevant to a piece on compassionate listening, but it, too, has its place. Compassion has to start within us. And learning to be still and listen to ourselves will bring us closer to being able to do the same for others. It is true that if we are not listening to ourselves mindfully, and with compassion, we will never be able to listen to others compassionately. It sounds trite, but we have to understand ourselves before we can understand others. So, listen to that voice in your head, and occasionally the one in your heart, so that you can find your own equilibrium. That makes is much easier to simply live in a world inhabited by other people, and makes it possible to reach out. With a helping hand, or to take one.

“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”

— Margaret J. Wheatley

Hearing is passive, listening is active. We hear an overwhleming amount all day long. Those of us capable of hearing, are also incapable of turning it off. We are, in fact, bombarded by sounds, all of the time. Our brains, helpfully, do block out ‘normal’ sounds while we sleep – so that we can sleep – and they also filter sounds, in much the same way that they filter abundant visual stimulation, by deciding what’s relevant, and dialing back what isn’t (or hopefully isn’t).

Unfortunately, we filter quite a bit, unconsciously, while listening, also. This is very apparent when we listen while doing other things – we get distracted by email while on a conference call, or we are attempting to eat dinner while chatting with a friend on the phone, or we are trying to read while our children are talking to us about something that we have minimal interest in, or… There a veritable multitude that I’m guilty of and I know I’m not alone. Suddenly I realize that I have absolutely no idea what we are talking about – let alone why my opinion is necessary.

“So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.”

— Jiddu Krishnamurti

When we attempt to listen while doing other tasks, we often miss the intent, if not the actual words. When someone tells us they are tired, it could be simply a factual observation. Or it could mean that they’re bored (a common problem with teens). Or it could be indicative of an existential crisis. Or depression. Unless we are really listening – to the words as well as the tone, the underlying emotion – we may miss something important. Perhaps even an attempt to reach out.

“Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.”
— Henri J.M. Nouwen

But, we have another, more difficult, problem when listening. Part of our brain’s filtering, categorizing, and self-protective functions, includes keeping ‘me’ front and center. Even when we are listening attentively, we are still hearing through our own filters – our own experiences, prejudices, belief system. A co-worker’s spouse has gout? How did your Aunt Jane deal with hers? We are often listening more with an ear out for how to respond. Even if our intent is sympathy, understanding, common ground, it is still making the listening about us, not about the person we’re listening to. Many times all that is needed is someone to listen. Not to offer advice, not to commiserate. Just to listen. This is perhaps hardest of all. Part of our desire to connect leads us to seek out a common thread that we can respond with, but that comes from our own desire. Ask if there’s anything we can do, if that’s appropriate, and sincere, but don’t preface the offer with a commentary about Aunt Jane’s gout, or your problems with morning sickness during your second trimester.

Don’t multi-task, try to take your own experiences out of the equation, and just listen. Something that is increasingly difficult to do in our highly electronic, multi-tasking oriented world, but it is necessary to try as we continue our efforts to make our corner of the universe a better, more compassionate place.

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Featured Image -- 322

Please check out the weekly and monthly magazines to see some of the wonderful pieces that have been collected.

To add your voice to the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, please check out the Facebook group here.