"You'll never know how much I really love you,
You'll never know how much I really care,
...Listen, do you want to know a secret
Do you promise not to tell
Closer, let me whisper in your ear..."
"Listen"...I remember how much I loved this song when I was ten years old. It might have been because it was the first time I'd heard George sing (he was my favorite!). Or perhaps it was because at ten, what I wanted...and needed...more than anything else, was to be listened to. I needed to believe that I was someone worthy of sitting "in conversation" with. And I thought that George was singing just to me. In fact, I was convinced of it. If I close my eyes, I can still see the small black vinyl 45rpm record spinning on our old record player, and when I hear it, I am - once again - smitten with hope. It didn't really even matter why I loved it then, it was a song I couldn't get enough of. I was sure that I, and I alone, was the sole reason it skyrocketed to #2 on the charts, just behind "Can't Buy Me Love," that year. I wanted to be listened to, and George was promising me that, when we really love someone, and when we really care, we will listen...and be listened to.
Aren't we all hungry to be really, truly heard. To know that what fills our hearts with love, peace, joy, inspiration...is meaningful to someone, might make a difference in their lives, and could possibly be the encouragement they need to feel less alone in the world. I think we all want to know that our thoughts and feelings, insights and stories have poignancy.
But what about the desire to listen. To hear someone else's story. To discover what is most meaningful to the people we know and love...or even those we are just meeting for the first time. This is my hunger. And it's a hunger that for a long time I tried to ignore, or simply temper to the point of only asking the more light-hearted questions.
My children sometimes think I am just too curious. I ask their friends a million questions when we are in the car, driving to a soccer game or birthday party. "What is your favorite subject in school?" "Where did you move here from?" "Do you like to play board games?" "What is the most interesting place you've ever been?" But it isn't mindless chatter, personal probing, or small talk for me. I really do enjoy hearing about how another person feels. I like hearing the details of their childhood. The rich textures of remembered moments from a wedding, the birth of a child, the way it felt to knead the first loaf of bread they ever baked, or the tactile memory of thow it felt to grind wheat berries, by hand, on large round millstones at an ancient monastery in France. I like giving space to their stories, their feelings about those experiences, and their insights.
I am not listening to be polite. I am not asking questions because I think I should. I really, truly, genuinely am interested.
But even in adult gatherings, I often felt unsure of myself. For a long time I was embarrassed by my own interests in other people's stories. I always seemed to be the person at a dinner party who wanted more and more details. "What color were the curtains in the villa?" "Did the woman offer you any insights about why she chose to devote her life to raising pygmy goats?" "What did you feel like when you saw your husband for the first time on the dock at summer camp?" "What did your father say to you just before he walked you down the aisle?"
But I am learning that this is not something to be embarrassed about. It is not idle prattle. When, as my friend, Chief Listening Officer (really!) of Educare Learning Institute, Sandy Wilder, puts it, "we pull in next to someone and look out at their experience with them...from their point of view" we give them something that is greater than gold. We honor their heart, their stories, their life experience...their wisdom and inspiration. We tell them that they are worthy of our attention. We remind them that the world is not, and never will be, spinning so fast that we can't slow down long enough and take a moment to listen to one another with genuine interest.
For me the difference between being "nosey" and listening deeply, is in the details. What am I interested in hearing? Do I want "the inside scoop", am I asking about the lives of people other than the person I am with, am I hoping to hear something no one else knows? Or, am I truly interested in how the person I am sitting with experienced a situation, what insights they gathered, what lessons they learned, how they felt...and are feeling?
Mary Baker Eddy describes the untold blessings found in this kind of listening, when she wrote:
"He entertains angels who listens to the lispings of repentance
seen in a tear - happier than the conqueror of a world."
Sometimes all it take to turn a "wrathful and afflictive" experience, into a moment of courage, a lesson learned, or an opportunity for someone else to be blessed by the footprints we have left in the sand, is to have someone take the time to listen to us tell our stories. In the telling we often hear how far we have come, how profoudly we were moved, how fundamentally we have been changed.
My friend Stacey shared this Youtube clip, "Children of Light," with me the other day...and it is worth every second you might give to viewing it. It is about a teacher in Japan who is nurturing the lost art of listening in his students. It shows the power of sharing our stories...and what happens when we really listen to one another. Mr. Mifuyu remarks, following a compelling example of the impact on one child of a shared story, and how it loosened the tightness in her own heart:
"When people really listen, they live in your heart forever..."
As I think back over the years of all the stories I have told, and all the stories I have heard, I am stunned by what I now realize. It is the people who have really listened to my heart, that have left the most lasting impression on my life. In their listening, their deeper questioning, they have given me a window on my own experiences, insights, and the lessons I have learned. Sometimes those listening partners have been a beloved four-legged companion. Yes, I am now seeing, that my dearest friends, are those who have listened to, and shared with, me in times of heartbreak and celebration, inner inquiry and stream of consciousness awakenings. And somehow, I have always learned as much from the questions they have asked, as I have from the stories they, too, were led to share during those feasts of Soul...that always turned into great potlucks...catered by our Father-Mother, God...who loves us all.
And when we practice this kind of deeply-focused listening with others, it naturally rolls over into our moments of silence, and we begin to listen to God from that same space of hunger. The banquet that follows is surprising, satisfying, and sweet.
Thank you dear friends. I am deeply moved by your willingness to pull in next to me, and listen to my heart...with me. You will live in my heart forever. Forever...and ever...
I love you...
Kate Robertson, CS
[photo credit: Nathaniel Wilder 2009]