Happy Black History month, yogis! February has been an unusually frosty one this year, as I sit writing this the wind is gusting and more heavy snow is accumulating. Under it all are several layers of ice that have thawed and refrozen several times over. So easy does it out there, everybody. And if you’re feeling guilty about staying in just remember, no one ever slipped and fell while in savasana.
I have been trying to modulate my listening skills lately. Quite often I can find myself listening to hear instead of listening to understand. I do it with my daughter almost every day, and I have to keep reminding myself to ‘be present’. Try though I might to pause my ‘automatic response generator,’ I can form an entire strategy for dealing with a problem before my eleven year-old is finished even telling me about it. I think it’s a common issue for parents…right guys? Please? And let’s face it, I trip over this kind of thing with my partner all the time. I want to SOLVE problems, and I think it is human nature to believe if someone is relating a problem to us they are looking for our help to fix it.
Thing is, if I get forensic on why I relate my own problems to friends or to my partner, often I just want to be heard. I have no expectation that anything will be made better for me by someone else, but the mere act of having spoken it seems to help. Being accessible for my family means that I’ve had to shelve some of my desire to fix things and just be there to listen. So what does it mean to be accessible for our friends and neighbours? What does it mean to be accessible to strangers? And how can we better embody accessibility for Black History Month?
Listening is definitely key. We get used to filtering the world through our own experiences, and in a city as big as Toronto that’s half nature, half survival instinct. It would be easy to become overwhelmed by the suffering of others. And if you’re someone who is relied on by others it can be tricky to find emotional space to store more data. But we can forget that what is expected – or hoped for – from us by someone who is relating their experiences to us, is simply a sense of understanding; a confirmation that they have been heard. Their experience is valid. It’s the foundation, it’s our common humanity.
Now, by no means do I have the strategy of ‘don’t interrupt to fix, just listen’ in the bag, but I’m working on it. Some days all I can offer is that I’m aware that this strategy exists. But you can’t address a problem – like interrupting, or anger, or racism – until you admit you have one. And admitting that we don’t necessarily have the answers isn’t admitting defeat, it’s simply accepting that there is a problem.
If you want to see what kind of listening habits most of us have, here’s a fun exercise you can do with a partner:
* Sit face to face, and decide which one of you will speak first, and what you will discuss. Keep it simple, talk about the morning.
• Now whoever is speaking first, offer a simple statement: i.e.- This morning I was out of coffee.
• Whoever speaks second must respond with the last word their partner spoke, as the first word in the next sentence: i.e.- Coffee is something I’m trying to drink less of in the morning.
• Keep going
It will show you just how tricky it is to fully listen and stay present. Good luck!