Thursday, October 25, 2018

Listening and Communication, Part II

       After I had written my blog on listening and communication, I had a very interesting experience.  Let me back up and say that I wrote the blog post on listening while I was on study leave.  I couldn't post it: I didn't have internet access so waited to publish it until I was solidly home.  But I wrote the post while I was gone at the CREDO conference.  CREDO is an amazing and wonderful conference that is given to Presbyterian Pastors (you go by invitation only) that focuses on renewal, education, intense self-reflection and creating a future plan in 5 major areas: physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and vocational health.  Incredibly helpful, especially if there are areas you avoid or that make you uneasy.  They gave a great deal of information, but also allowed time for processing with a small group and on your own in order to look at what ways the information applied to us personally, and what we would then need to do with the information we were gathering.  At the end of the week, we were expected to have some plans for stepping forward with all the information.  As I was gathered with my small group in order to share those plans, I found myself laying out my ideas in these five areas but stating that there was absolutely no connection between any of them.  And that's when the conference took a complete 180 degree turn for me. My small group all stared at me like I was insane, and then calmly pointed out that not only was there a very clear unifying theme throughout all five of my areas, but that I'd even been using the same word over and over in each area to describe where I was and what needed to be addressed.  The group reflected back to me clarity, they challenged and deepened my thinking, they brought my scattered thoughts together into a single forward direction.
          And as I sat with this information, I had the uneasy revelation that it was not just that there had been over the last few years an increasing number of times when I have felt unheard by the people around me; it was, more seriously and more harmfully true, that I had been and still was unable to hear myself.  And THAT realization felt like a strong punch in the nose.
           I've always felt good about the fact that I am a self-reflective person.  I own my sh...  I easily apologize.  I am more than willing to do the work to figure out which pieces of a problem are my own, and which pieces I don't need to claim.  I am not afraid to ask for help with that self-reflection and to get other people's insights into what is really happening both within and without. When confronted, I take seriously what the other is saying to me and am able to be okay with owning my mistakes and the areas in which I still need growth and change. That is a core piece of my identity: I am self-reflective and willing to do the work of changing. And so, to realize that I had spent a week (and frankly, years before the week) working on specific issues and to have totally and completely missed what was actually at the base, at the root of what I was doing... well, it was a shock, to say the least.
          And it brought me back to the issue of listening.  Meditation is not just about listening to God (or the Divine or the Universe or whatever it is you listen to that is outside of yourself).  It is also about taking the space and breathing deeply enough to listen to yourself.  Training on how to listen to others can also help us to learn how to listen to ourselves.  Journaling, writing, walking, talking... all of these can help us to listen to ourselves.  But if we are not intentional about taking the time, if we are not purposeful and willing to really look deeper at things that may be uncomfortable, listening and being willing to really hear ourselves is not a given.
           I also found myself thinking that if we struggle to hear ourselves, how much are we really able to hear others?  Don't our own unexamined motivations get in the way of truly going deep into hearing what another is saying?
           Looking, then, to take this to the bigger level, I wonder if part of our increasing inability as a country, as a people, to hear one another hasn't started with the busyness of work, social media, entertainment and the blasting of the world with noise and lights that has prevented us from listening deeply, and firstly, to ourselves. It takes time and space to really hear.  It takes enough quietness that our thoughts are not drowned out by everything else going on.  It takes genuine rest and breathing in air that is not cluttered by worries, fears, anxieties, and that thing we have to do next.  If we can't make the space to learn to hear ourselves, how will we ever create a place where we are able to hear one another, especially across differences and diverse world views?
           I left the week with many goals.  But my primary goal is simply to make sure there is time and space to listen: to God, to myself and to others.  This isn't something I can learn once and then move on: it has to be a life long commitment to being in the world differently: without all the noise and distractions and fears.  One step at a time I strive to move into this.  I am grateful for the wonderful people around me who listen better than I.  I have much to learn.  I am grateful for those who have much to teach.