Listen to me, I say, listen to my words, let me sing in your ear. My whole life, I’ve been calling for you to listen to me, I’ve been calling out in the night, calling names, learning the contours of conversation, hoping that some day, I would find someone who wants to hear all my words, to ingest them like a rich brownie still-warm from the oven, savoring the sweet density as it melts on the tongue.
I have a muse these days, a voice in my head, close to my ear, who makes me feel like singing. This voice says everything I want to hear, and I am learning to listen. But the muse listens to me too – I can speak out in the dark and the muse is there. I can drive in the car, and the muse is alongside me. I can be silent with my thoughts, and the muse nods approval.
Not long ago, the muse said he is most attracted to my words, to listening to what I have to say. In all the years that I was single, I never listed that high on my priorities of the Perfect Guy. But this time around, I certainly will.We come into the world, unable to communicate, without letters formed into words, without even language. And so we wail and kick our legs and arms, thrust little fists into the air and open mouths to screech until someone guesses our desires, fills our needs. Most of us may spend the rest of our time here doing the same thing, in one form or another.
Recently, I came across an excerpt of a report by a British nurse who said her medical practice improved after she lost her voice. Unable to speak, she listened intently, and her patients opened up in the presence of quiet and silence, amid respectful and deliberate efforts at communication. How much weight do we place on non-verbal communication? I, too, am in such a rush to be heard, I want my stories to be told, I want to take the microphone in hand and have others listen, rapt, to the words that spill forth from my mouth and my mind. But what do I lose in the process of not listening?
Facial expressions, a warm hand gently placed as reassurance on a shaking shoulder, leaning in to the person with whom you want to communicate – in turn, being closer physically without the cacophony of quick conversation, often just to fill that ever-present void. These are the tools that develop empathy, understanding, intuitive presence – for this British nurse, between herself and her patient, but dare I propose that we could all benefit from a little more active listening?
Just being with someone, truly sitting there and experiencing all that the person has to offer, rather than racing through the moments and trying – desperately – to fill them with something. How much better, how much deeper, how much more real, would our relationships be if we devoted more together time to listening rather filling silences?
In Richard Edler’s, If I Knew Then What I Know Now (which is a fabulous title and a refrain that I think we would all benefit from reciting to ourselves every now and again), Lynn Upshaw (www.brandbuilding.com/lynn_upshaw.php) said the following:
“Listening is the most difficult skill to learn, and the most important to have. In our business, learning how to listen – and really hear – what people say can make all the difference.”
Listening well yields all sorts of gifts. You learn what someone truly means. You understand what is important. You find hidden goals, silent dreams. You get to the heart of a person. Babies learn to speak with relative ease. It’s much harder to learn to listen well and to resist the urge to interrupt someone else.
I cringe when I am interrupted because I take that to mean that the other person has finished listening to me, I am no longer important to them, they have tuned me out. And yet, I find myself interrupting all the time. What is my rush to speak? Do I truly think that I will miss the opportunity to have a voice if I hear someone out and wait my turn?
I tell my children that every person is put on earth to contribute unique skills, talents, and perspectives, to issue forth more compassion, to help build a better world. I tell them that when we have completed our tasks here, our life ends. We have done all we can do.
My five-year-old son, Asher, asked me, “What does it mean to live each day as if it’s your last?”
“It means, don’t waste your time, don’t fill your days with things and people that don’t matter,” I told him.
The muse talks to me in the night, in my cocoon of conversation. He tells me to talk, asks if he can listen. He loves my words, my thoughts, my brain. And that makes me want to listen to him even more, to taste his words, to hold them between my fingers and feel all the nuances of textures and bends and curves.
My friend Paul Saginaw told me yesterday that he married his wife 32 years ago because she was the first girl who would have a conversation with him. “Does she still?” I asked. He smiled. “Just this morning,” he said. A lucky man, a life worth living, filled with words.