Friday, August 26, 2011


I have both Facebook and Twitter accounts and because of that I tend to read articles and essays that I would normally not read. I read one on the art of listening and it was from Plum Village in France. It said that listening to other people was part of one's spiritual path. I had not considered that before or maybe I forgot.

I am also reading a book on autism, "Be Different, Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian: With Practical Advice For Aspergians, Misfits, Families and Teachers" by John Elder Robison (Crown Archeype: 2011). The reader might wonder why I brought this up but this book by an author who suffers from a form of autism explains why he had to learn to listen and have an imaginary stop watch in his head so he could listen to people and not tell people all kinds of interesting facts in the first 30 seconds after meeting them.

I am a writer and often spend time alone writing and sketching in a journal or writing on a laptop. A laptop does not answer back and is a very willing listener. I get used to just downloading what I have to say without listening to anyone other than myself. I miss out on a lot of things that way. I do listen to my grandchildren but I had trouble listening to one of my children because he talked about technical matters and I have zero interest in anything of a mechanical nature. He would get so frustrated talking to me. I had to learn the hard way that I was being unfair to him. I was his mother and I had no interest in what interested him the most. I am better now and listen to him more.

I listened to my other child because he talked about literature and the arts. I am fascinated with those subjects. Inadvertently, I increased the sibling rivalry between them. Again this was not a good thing and it was my fault. There is a natural amount of it between brothers and sisters in the first place. When I was growing up, my parents did not want to listen to me which hurt me but they did not want to listen to my other siblings either. My father did not want to listen to anyone but himself and even that he did not do a very good job.

Listening involves listening to oneself. Many people forget that. I am doing that nowadays. I am trying to do that as honestly as I can which means hearing what is really said and not what I want to hear. I also listen to others and look like I am listening when I do. It is not only polite to do so, but also a very compassionate thing to do. I remember times in my life when people really listened to me. As the kids say, it is awesome when someone really listens to you. I need to do the same to others.

I read a great deal and sometimes I think that if it isn't in a book, it isn't worth listening to. That is so wrong. I need to put the magic glue on my lips and listen to someone and ask questions if I don't understand some aspect of it. Of course when the conversation is so practiced that you know he or she has told this same story many times it takes great amounts of patience to stay with the talker. That is when I ask questions to break the sameness of it. That does not mean I have to stay with someone who won't stop, won't consider the listener.

There is a Star Trek movie in which Mr. Spock's mother asks her son: "What do you feel?" To break the stream of someone's story that has been told countless times I have asked what do you feel about that? It is usually enough for them to stop the sing song words and say what they are feeling about the story they are telling and some real conversation gets started. If not, then I go somewhere else.

I know someone who always asks the same questions in a conversation but it works. What did you like about that experience the most, the worst? I don't know if he is really interested in the answers but it seems as if he is. It usually gets the other person thinking too. Listening is part of a conversation in which there is an exchange of ideas and information. No one wants to be part of a one sided conversation. That was what Robison wrote he learned from his experiences in talking with people.

When I worked for the employment department for the state of California, I did learn that the best thing I could possibly do was to listen to the people who came in to see me. They weren't just looking for work but also they were in pain after losing a job. Some men burst into tears. I tried very hard to stop this because I was a woman and I did not want them to be seen in tears in public because they would feel bad about it later. I did want them to feel they were being believed, listened to sympathetically. It is scary to be working in one job for 19 years and suddenly lose it a year before they could get their pension. They would blame themselves but it was their employers who wanted to save money. Employees also feel hurt by the callous behavior of people and companies they worked for so many years. Listening was essential. Then as I left that job I fell out of that skill of listening.

It was Plum Village that reminded me that is was part of my Spiritual Path to listen because it was a compassionate thing to do. When you do compassionate things, you become kinder and gentler towards your fellow human beings. It is a cycle of good and it helped me to be a better person and in turn a happier person. And by listening, I learned things about people. I also became calmer and took things slower. I started to remember what I knew before about being an active listener. I was a reader which is a form of listening. I am trying to put what I have learned into use these days. I don't want to leave this earth a worse place than I found it.

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