Tuesday’s Quotes August 14, 2018 – On listening…

“How do you listen? Do you listen with your projections, through your projection, through your ambitions, desires, fears, anxieties, through hearing only what you want to hear, only what will be satisfactory, what will gratify, what will give comfort, what will for the moment alleviate your suffering? If you listen through the screen of your desires, then you obviously listen to your own voice; you are listening to your own desires. And is there any other form of listening? Is it not important to find out how to listen not only to what is being said but to everything – to the noise in the streets, to the chatter of birds, to the noise of the tramcar, to the restless sea, to the voice of your husband, to your wife, to your friends, to the cry of a baby? Listening has importance only when on is not projecting one’s own desires through which one listens. Can one put aside all these screens through which we listen, and really listen?”  — J Krishnamurti

Krishnamurti, who died in 1986 at 90, was a philosophical and religious speaker. Indian by birth, but adopted by Annie Besant, president of the Theosophical Society, as a child, and promoted by her as the leader of the new world order that the Theosophists had predicted would come. In 1929 he renounced that claim, and spent the next several decades traveling globally to speak about religion and philosophy, without identifying with any one religion, or ideology. I had the good fortune to hear him speak in Madras in 1984.

It seems that the art of listening is diminishing in direct proportion to the increase in the speed of information, and the shortening of our collective attention span. All too often, we listen to respond, not to hear. In order to engage in productive dialogue, and to understand others, we need to work past that tendency, so that we hear not only the words, but the meaning behind them.

The mindful listening image came from a presentation found on Slideshare.net on Listening Skills http://www.slideshare.net/jgerst1111/listening-skills-10244219  


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

Thoughts on Compassion and Courage in a Difficult Age

“Courage and compassion are two sides of the same coin. Compassion without courage is not genuine. You may have a compassionate thought or impulse, but if you don’t do or say anything, it’s not real compassion.”

— Daisaku Ikeda

Like most of us, I’ve been so overwhelmed with the devastating loss of life in terrorist acts, both foreign and domestic. And I’ve again been disheartened by the lack of attention paid here in the US to the serious terror attacks happening outside of Europe or the US. The continuing push of nationalism here and elsewhere. There are many things happening in the US, and elsewhere, that disturb me greatly. And I’m very concerned about a political climate that seems to be fostering the worst of the racists, xenophobes, and haters, while drowning out the voices of reason. Whispering on the wind. That’s what it often feels like.

“The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.”

— Robert Green Ingersoll

While I was trying to decide what to write, on this very broad compassion topic of courage, my then 16-year-old daughter suggested something about bullying, and the courage to stand up for others. And I, perhaps not very helpfully, made a comment about Donald Trump. Which led my, exasperated, daughter to ask “why is it always about politics?” My response was simply that Trump was a bully. Which is true. But I do see her point.

The reality, though, is that, in the end, it’s always politics. Maybe not electioneering-type politics – not the politics that we think of when we think of the word. But the politics of life. “the total complex of relations between people living in society” as Merriam-Webster would have it. At the micro level this is what matters. And my daughter is right, compassion does compel us to act in the face of bullying. At school, at sporting events, in social settings. We, as compassionate, caring, people cannot abide the abuse of others. And we do need to act. Acting on that can take many forms. Of course, personal safety, and the safety of others, factors into it – as does the actual circumstance. Sometimes observing, and reporting, is all that you can, or should do. Sometimes there’s opportunity to intervene directly. There is never one answer. But we should never ignore it when we witness it. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to keep a village safe and secure. We all shoulder that responsibility. That’s what makes a community – it’s why societies form. And that is part of the courage of moral conviction that underlies our sense of compassion, and gives us the ability to act.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
— Mark Twain

This cannot, however, be truly separated from Politics-with-a-capital-p. Our daily interpersonal relationships, and the smaller societies of our families, and our communities, are a part of the larger whole – our counties, our states, our country. We have responsibilities in all of those. And as citizens of a representative government, we have responsibilities that are, dare I say, political. We need to vote, yes, but more than voting, we owe it to ourselves, our children, and our country, to understand the issues – and to pay attention. In politics, and in life, there can be many correct answers. Very rarely does any one candidate, or any one party have everything right. But that’s okay, too – perfection doesn’t exist, and circumstances change.

“We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don’t like about our associates or our society.

It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others….Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.”
— Pema Chödrön

However, something feels different this time. The angry voices are not only getting louder, they’ve managed to convert others to their causes. And they are bullying – threats, intimidation, hateful rhetoric. And we, as compassionate, caring, people cannot abide the abuse of others. We are compelled to act. Society needs us to act. It seems overwhelming, but we need to continue to write, to protest, to attempt to educate others that there is a better way. That hate is never the answer. That walls, and guns, witch hunts, and religious persecution will not make us safe.

“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”

— Billy Graham

At all levels, the answer is the same – we need the courage of our compassion, and our convictions to drive out the bullying.

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
― Robert F. Kennedy

Originally published on July 20, 2016 for that month’s #1000Speak post – some minor changes, mostly unchanged.



Tuesday’s Quotes June 19, 2018 – Timely Timeless Advice

“We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.” — Elie Wiesel

Something to always keep in mind. When we see people, any people, as abstractions – as somehow less deserving as a group of our compassion, of our respect – and not as individual humans, we not only make it possible to justify atrocities, or even to commit atrocities, we also lose a piece of our own humanity.

Omnia vincit amor.


Photo of the Rio Grande near Taos – July, 2016


Just another Sunday…

I spent the afternoon assisting at the ACLU table at the Hudson Valley Pride Festival.  It was a good day to be outside, and the festival was well-attended. We, unexpectedly, had some high-schoolers assisting for most of the day – and once again, I have to say how impressed I am with ‘kids these days’ – they are the promise of a better future.

This was my first time at a pride event, but, sadly, I’d forgotten my phone so I have no pictures. I also was unaware that my husband had texted to let me know he was there to pick me up, or that my daughter had texted to let me know that she was home (and therefore would be eating with us). No worries, though – my husband found us, and helped pack up and take down the tent. And he was there to witness the drama of the medivac helicopter that came in to pick someone up after most of the festival space had been cleaned up – no idea what had happened to get to that point, but it certainly wasn’t because they were in a hurry – I assume that it was because, for whatever reason, it was necessary to transport the patient to one of the more distant major hospitals – probably Westchester or Albany. I don’t even know if the patient had been at the park for the festival, or if something had happened in one of the houses near the park. I hope whoever it was is recovering from whatever it was.

I was struck today, in a space where all were welcome, how important it is that we work to preserve that spirit of inclusion – and it most definitely does require work, particularly  for those of us that perhaps came of age in a less accepting time – love and compassion, acceptance for the different, are not always easy, but they are very necessary for the survival of humanity. Our current political climate seems to have encouraged more people to wish for – to push for – a return to some idealized version of the past – a past that never was as wonderful as nostalgia would have it, and was also far less tolerant, far less inclusive, than where we are now. We need to keep moving forward to a better, more peaceful, world. We need to work to avoid falling into the trap of moving backwards instead.

“No government, no organisation, no citizen can afford to be less than vigilant in combating bigotry, intolerance and hatred. And frankly, our way of life depends on that vigilance.” — Barry O’Farrell



Maintaining Balance

I’ve been thinking about this quote quite a  bit recently, and since it’s a fairly lazy holiday weekend, I thought I’d share it again – any topics that I might want write about today conflict too much with the spirit of the holiday weekend. And I figured I’d try to get through the next couple of days without opining too much. So, instead, I offer the reminder that we always need to keep moving forward, and not give up.

The origins of this particular Einstein quote are a bit questionable – it apparently came from a letter he’d written to his son in 1930, and was quoted in a 2007 biography. He may well have written it – it seems in line with other things he’d said and written. But maybe he didn’t. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if the origins are murky because the quote itself is an apt reminder that we always need to keep moving. Keep changing. Keep growing. When we let a defeat, or a tragedy, stop us and stall us, that’s when we falter and risk falling – as long as we keep pedaling and moving forward, we can stay upright.

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
― Albert Einstein