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On Listening

Have you ever been in one of those gatherings where everyone has a chance to share, and you know your turn to talk is coming up soon, and you can’t listen to anything anyone else is saying? Maybe you’re all wrapped up in scripting your contribution, or concerned with what other people will think. Perhaps you’re full of anxiety that defies description, and you’ve got cold sweats. I hear reports from people that this happens to them in integration circles, as well as in other areas of their life. Choreographing what we’re going to say or do next obviously has benefits, but we don’t want it feeding our neurosis and disconnecting us from others. If we see signs that this is the case, it’s a sign that we have work to do.

Healthy Choreography and Reflection
There is a misconception that we always need to be ‘in the moment’. While huge value lies in the capacity to Be Here Now, we can’t live there exclusively. As worldly people, we need to be able to plan ahead in order to manage our complex lives. We need to be able to look back on our day and think about how it went, and how we can be better versions of ourselves tomorrow. Attempting to only ‘be present’ denies the magnificent capacity of our mind’s natural ability to self reflect, to adjust, and to adapt. We live in time, and in relationship, and these things deserve our attention and care. To deny this is to isolate ourselves from our resourcefulness and our ability to create our best lives for ourselves.

Neurotic Choreography and Reflection
The inverse to the above is true as well, of course. We all know that the inability to get present creates innumerable challenges. We all get caught in mental spirals about what could of been, how wrong we were, or how badly we were treated. We all worry obsessively about what might come to pass. Not being able to regulate our mind’s attention leads to a build up of stress and tension in the body. Our anxiety becomes a lived, felt experience. It becomes a vicious cycle, the more we do it, the easier it becomes, and the harder it is to break out of.

The Role of Self Centeredness
The root of these mental spirals is self centeredness. We are focused on ourselves, what might happen to us, how are we going to get what we want, am I going to be ok? “All through the day, I, Me, Mine, all I can hear, I, Me, Mine”, as The Sainted George Harrison said. We’re so absorbed in our problems, in the “ourness” of our problem, that we can’t see past our nose. We feel isolated, alienated. Of course, this usually leads to poor decision making and maladaptive behaviors. It definitely isn’t great for cultivating empathy or connection.

A Solution: Listening
We come to circle not just to talk, but to listen. We have a moment in our lives where we get to practice being supremely present and attentive to what others have to say. We can put aside our need to be the most knowledgeable, or the most broken, or the most whatever, and just be one among many. Through listening we get out of our own head, we become less isolated. Maybe we see that we’re not the only one who struggles with a particular issue. Maybe we get a chance to take ourselves less seriously. By listening to others, and caring about someone else for a moment, the grasp of our ego loosens. We end up with a different relationship to the community, sure, but more importantly, we end up with a different relationship to ourselves.

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