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Deep Listening

I miss my grandchildren. I miss slowing down and giving them my full attention as they tell me their adventures, their woes, their discoveries. Listening is a wonderful gift to give someone I love.

I committed to listen to my children and started when they were toddlers. I made it a daily habit after school to sit on the couch and listen. Listening gave me joy. I remember as they grew, I waited on the couch and they grew disinterested. It was okay because my commitment to listen was also helping me heal my little girl inside who ached to be heard.

I didn’t have adults around me who took the time to fully listen when I spoke, always multi-tasking when I was speaking. Whether it was when I was a child or an adult, the multi-tasking continued. It was easy for me to conclude they really didn’t care enough to pay attention. They were bored or they didn’t have the guts to say they didn’t care, and managed by focusing elsewhere.

To this day, I am sensitive to someone who is half paying attention. I’ve learned to tone down my reflex of over-reacting when multi-task listening occurs. I carry my history on my insides. Someone else doesn’t know my trigger. Today if I feel unheard, I stop talking midsentence and wait for their attention. This intervention works better than screaming and fighting.

Mirror work is a powerful tool in personal growth. I remember the first time I ventured into a conversation with myself in the mirror and I was unsuccessful. I couldn’t look me in the eye. I couldn’t stand talking to myself. I wanted to multi-task. Mirror work truly is a way to gauge how truthful I am to myself. Once in a while I am able to stand in front of a mirror and have a conversation. Mirror conversations are easier as I heal.

Journaling is another powerful tool in personal growth. I found journaling safer to practice than mirror work. In 1981, Sarah, my therapist suggested I write down my thoughts and feelings. It’s a way to express my emotions, is cathartic and helps deal with anxiety and tension. Journaling creates an outlet. Journaling becomes an ally. Journaling gives insight and helps make room inside for all the emotions.

In a 2013 study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers found that a certain kind of journaling—sometimes known as expressive writing—may help in healing physical wounds, at least small ones. Investigators asked healthy adults ages 64 to 97 to journal for 20 minutes a day, three days in a row. But not everybody used the same journaling practice: Half were encouraged to write about things that upset them, honestly discussing their thoughts and feelings about those events. The other half wrote about a much dryer topic: how they manage time during the day.

Two weeks later, all participants had a tiny biopsy performed on their arms, creating a small wound. Researchers then tracked how that wound healed by taking a picture every day. By day 11, a full 76 percent of the group who wrote the more genuine journal about upsetting life events had healed, compared to just 42 percent of those that wrote about time management.”

I think journaling saved my life. I filled bins over the years. Then I moved on to digital journals. I discovered repeating behaviors when challenges occurred that helped me cope when they occurred again. I documented my journey with my daughter. I became a friend to my inner child because I was listening. I listened to myself and my healing began.

I realize as I write this, I am still journaling every day. What I write is my journal and my blog is where I post it.

KEEPING A JOURNAL by William Stafford

At night it was easy for me with my little candle to sit late recording what happened that day. Sometimes rain breathing in from the dark would begin softly across the roof and then drum wildly for attention. The candle flame would hunger after each wafting of air. My pen inscribed thin shadows that leaned forward and hurried their lines along the wall.

More important than what was recorded, these evenings deepened my life: they framed every event or thought and placed it with care by the others. As time went on, that scribbled wall--even if it stayed blank--became where everything recognized itself and passed into meaning.

Participants’ Reflections:

  • Talking about active listening, I think when I was younger, if my attention wandered, I might pretend that it didn’t and I’d go along with the conversation. It was very stressful; it’s like lying. What I figured out in the last couple of years, if my attention wanders when someone is speaking to me, I would come clean and share that my mind wandered. I’d ask if they could tell it to me again. I never had anybody get mad at me for that because it shows they are important to me; I did want to listen. I really like coming clean now and admitting I wasn’t present for the moment. Now they have my full attention. They are important to me.

  • I was struck with the thought before we started the meditation that we have something to learn from listening to everyone. This was occasioned by the fact that I tuned in to an author talk last night and fell asleep. I was able to listen again and found I hung in there when I started to tune her out, but there was one nugget worth going back and relistening to. I think listening in this community has such value. We listen to ourselves when we meditate and when we journal, listen to my inner voice and what my emotions are saying. That attention is so valuable.

  • When you started to share this morning, I realized I was multi-tasking. I’m aware I do these little things that I think aren’t a big deal and they allow me a vehicle to check out a moment or two. I feel like I’m in a place of emptying out. This feels like I’m pulling the threads in to me to understand what makes the fabric of me.

  • You mentioned your blog being a journal over this past year. I was thinking it occurred to me by you holding this community with our stories, you’ve held space for our thoughts over the year. I participate in this and have been for a while. I can go back and look at these blogs and realize that’s where I was. You are the scribes for us personally in this group, so I want to thank you for the time you have done that. That is huge.

  • As a parent of four kids, I could definitely relate to what you were saying about half listening and fully listening. I could see myself in different states of that throughout the years. I have awareness whether I’m listening or not. The journaling to listening to my inner child, that felt revelatory for me. I have been journaling for years. It’s nice to know I have been listening to myself, yet for many years I did not want to go back and read what I had written. I did not want to listen again. I was talking to the journal and it was done. If I went back and reread what I wrote, I felt shame. At one point in my adulthood, I threw all my journals away. I wish I hadn’t done that. It’s only been in the last couple of years I’ve enjoyed re-reading. It’s helpful to go back and listen to my words.

  • I have a confession to make that I don’t always listen to what you all are saying because I’m formulating my own thoughts. So I love re-reading what is said and can pay closer attention.

  • Okay, okay, I’m finally going to start journaling. My total time between my meditation while I’m walking and this and the biofeedback work, I’m up to an hour and a half a day. I’ve learned with relationships, listening is a major part of the relationship.

  • Back in 2009, we started a little business called Sacred Scribes. We lived in a retirement community and heard amazing stories from the elderly about their life adventures. I was a practicing court reporter and my wife was the interviewer. I hadn’t seen the familiar thread from that time and now in documenting our journey. Thank you.

  • This is perfect and everything you said about being triggered when people don’t listen, I’ve learned I have to listen to myself because I wouldn’t listen to myself. With multi-tasking, I get distracted. It’s so great to hear what everyone is sharing. I’ve been wanting to journal. I don’t know what stops me. Everyone is saying how healing it is. I want to do that. I have these excuses. Listening applies to texting. Some people respond to my texts, others don’t. I feel like they aren’t listening. When I’m with them, I see they are with their phones and on top of things. Like you said, when people don’t listen, I stop talking. When they don’t text, I stop texting. It’s difficult to do. Like you said, stopping is better than screaming. It’s a trigger. I’m grateful you talked about this and for everyone’s shares.

  • I feel badly that I wasn’t a good listener when my kids were growing up. I was fraught with so much to do to keep us afloat. One thing I did do was to be demonstrative with my love for them. I find it easy to listen to what you are all saying because my heart is connected to you all.

  • Interestingly enough, I went down through a rabbit hole to some memories. My early memories of my mother are associated with disapproval. It hooks into my emotional state. I went looking for the everyday moments with my mom. I came up with a few that again attached to my emotional state. I remember times I could sleep with my mom and I can remember the backyard, the roses. I could conjure that up, but not the rest of her. She was busy. The memories connect to her busyness. But then when I saw her with my children, she would dance with my children. I could see how she was with me prior to my memory bank. So thank you, that was fun today to do that and to figure it out. We have faulty memories. And when we play the bad memories over, they stick. We don’t want them to stick.

  • Thank you for listening, for journaling. Journaling doesn’t have to be full sentences, or perfect grammar, it can just be, the freedom to let ourselves just be. I hope you all have a gentle day. Enjoy the sunshine. Be gentle with yourselves, and listen. We are the proof it works.

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