Monday, March 14, 2016

Listening with Love

When wisdom or ritual occurs across traditions, I tend to pay attention. 

Listening. It seems like a lost art. I think I've been less skilled in this recently. For example, I used to listen really really well. But my husband keeps talking about the Leicester City football team, so ....

No, seriously, I was a good listener mainly because I was an excellent introvert. Not having to talk was great. But that also meant that the person doing all the talking never got a response out of me. Now, I'm a trained extrovert so I talk more.

Recently, my church's bishop came to speak to us and one of the things I got out of it was that we need to start modeling dialogue, not these polarized opposites where we fling insults and sneers (and worse) at each other. That we need to come together and learn to listen to each other, really listen, reflect on what we have heard, and move forward together in a way that is life-honoring. There may be an agreement to disagree, but we are still honoring the other person by hearing them out, and they have honored us by hearing us out.

And it's a process. I admit I can be easily triggered into a defensive mode, should anyone cast aspersions against, for example, immigrants (as I am one). Part of what I am trying to do these days is to actually try and listen and share my thoughts without starting with "you're wrong ..." or rolling my eyes. 

These kinds of conversations are not easy, and are very difficult for me to begin (see introvert, above), and I'm not even sure I'm doing them correctly, but we have to make some sort of start to listen to each other, to get beyond the surface claims of whoseever corner we are in, and understand what is truly going on and how we can find solutions and ways forward.

There is a technique called active listening where one reflects back to the person what they have said in a non-judgmental way. "I hear that you are saying..." Sometimes hearing it can cause a "that's not what I meant!" and sometimes it can lead into a deeper conversation. Imagine if a conversation had two active listeners, taking turns to hear the other's point of view ....

It does takes two, however. As a friend of mine commented on Facebook recently (and I'm greatly paraphrasing), boundaries need to be set. If the other person isn't willing to listen, or insists upon verbal attacks, you don't have to take it on the chin in the name of love. (Or turn the other cheek.) And she's right. Nothing will be achieved unless both parties are willing to listen and respond in love.

This is not something that can happen instantaneously. I have a feeling that it can be quite the journey and investment in time to get to a place where two people can listen and respond in love. It can be as little as an act of kindness to leave the door open, or talking about a less explosive subject as a means of practicing.

Humble connections is an article by Nicole Chilivis about such conversations. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I start to pay attention when multiple traditions start saying the same thing. Listening, really listening, has been a call for many centuries. 

In the Jewish tradition, a prayer called the Sh'ma is said daily (traditionally). Two years ago I learned the Sh'ma, which was easy, but also the V'ahavta, which was a lot more Hebrew to learn.  The first word in the Sh'ma is the word "listen" or "hear". "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is Our God, the Lord is one." (read more about my learning it)

It's not simply a "listen up, folks". It also requires a response, an action. Most of what follows is a pleading by God to remember this simple precept and to live by the laws that they are about to hear (in the context of Moses giving the commandments to the Israelites). 

In the Christian tradition, the first word of The Rule of St. Benedict is "listen". Again, Benedict is not writing down this word for the sake of it. The rule is also a call to action, also requires a response, and points to a way of life (in this case, communal monasticism).

Passive listening is not enough. For if you do not hear (mark and inwardly digest, to steal from a Book of Common Prayer collect), really hear, then you have not heard it at all.

Do you ever catch yourself not listening? Why? What do you do about it?


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