I could feel Gloria Dump listening with all her heart and it felt good.
–from Because of Winn Dixie, movie and book by author, Kate DiCamillo
When was the last time someone listened to you with rapt attention? Have you ever listened to another person from this place of deep silence and presence?
Now that I live on the side of a mountain, the roaring sounds of airplanes, freeway traffic, and sirens have been replaced by the whir of hummingbirds, the buzz of bees, the chirp of crickets, songs of birds, and rustling leaves. Being nourished by nature’s symphony, I notice a deeper place of silence in my being. Yet, much of my life the experience of a noisy world inside of myself often paralleled the raucous outside world of people, places, and things.
Do you know there’s this part of you that is a silent witness that can observe your thoughts and notice the sensations in your body as you experience feelings? You can go there any time you want to for both respite and amusing entertainment. Spending some time in this place can provide that realization that you are not the cacophony of your busy mind.
I grew up in a noisy household of talkers. Dinnertime often felt like an Olympic competition for air time. Many evenings people interrupted, talked over one another or riffed at the same time with much passion. Words rushed around me. Sometimes I found myself surprised by the lack of listening as I quietly watched. Other times I became a brave competitor for my ideas to be heard above the din. I learned to talk fast, loud, repeat myself, interrupt, use my hands, arms, and facial expressions in an exaggerated way. When frightening arguments happened, I learned to cower, be silent, and wish desperately that I could become invisible.
Some of you may have learned to be silent, but on the inside, your mind and heart fill to overflowing with words and feelings.
You know all too well that experience of stuffing your words, “biting your tongue,” or containing your expression. Did you create a safe place to purge these thoughts and feelings? Do they still chatter inside of you right now as you read these words? The bottled-up unexpressed thoughts/feelings may have become the incessant, often irrational interpretations, the harsh criticisms that now repeat themselves in a do-loop.
In contrast, you may observe that you talk incessantly with no filter, no internal editor sitting with her red pen like the grammar goddess at the desk of your voice box. Any thought that bubbles up inside of you comes bouncing right off your tongue. There’s no dress rehearsal or pause button. You might be more concerned about your hairstyle than the words you spew into the room. You notice you’re reactive. You’re quick to speak your mind. And if you don’t notice, I promise you others do.
I have lived both of these experiences and more. I know the hot, red-cheeked shame of killing conversations around me. I know the costs of not speaking up when it could have made a positive contribution. I know the uncomfortable back pressure of unexpressed thoughts and feelings, how these can leak out sideways or can turn into illness in the body. Sometimes when I chose not to talk, I puked. I also know that some words spoken will be dismissed, demeaned, and denounced by others.
I know how difficult finding a peaceful silence can be with another person. Most of us struggle with the ability to listen, yet this capacity, art, way of being can be nurtured.
Taking time for quiet whether by being in nature, practicing meditation, or completely unplugging for a bit, you can begin to connect with that witness. You can silently observe the sensations in your body, hear your breath, feel your heart beating, see your thoughts float like clouds, flit like colorful warblers, or run like a thundering herd of buffalo across your mind. Allowing this observant part of you to expand can reap many benefits including the capacity to actually hear others with fascinated attention because you’ve learned to hold space and become much quieter inside your own internal world.
Deepening this experience to the body and all the five senses can be profound as the nervous system begins to rewire for calm. The practice of deep breathing from the diaphragm, feeling your lungs expand in your back body helps access the mind/body connection to quiet, to the grounded, “feel your feet,” of this still space. Becoming keenly aware of your heart can open pathways to finally grieving past hurts. The restorative poses from yoga practice can also support the realization of an embodied presence.
To cultivate this ability to deeply listen becomes an exquisite gift of unconditional love for another human being. Listening from stillness with an open mind, an open heart allows infinite space for another human being to weep, to breathe, to hear themselves, to cuss, to uncover their own truth, to be broken, lost, and to be exactly who they are in that moment. To listen with every fiber of your being can make another individual feel like they are the most beloved being in the entire Universe. Wrapping them in a warm, soft blanket of your undivided attention, you become a sacred gift given from the soul of silence. May you become this rare and wondrous treasure for yourself, for others, and for our world.