Monday, July 18, 2011

Just listen

I have often said that for every two steps forward there is at least one step backwards. I have offered those words as encouragement, as explanation for one's yoga practice, and one's life in general, to take a tortured path – never coursing forwards in a straight unending line, but rather twisting and turning through a tangled web of emotions, reaching for its successes and leaving its mistakes still writhing by the side of the path.

But it still comes as a painful lesson to find oneself wrapped in that coil of confusion, feeling that one's role is nothing more than that of a processional caterpillar, nose to tail with the one in front, not controlling, not leading but following one's nose blindly, with no real idea of purpose or direction.

Those are difficult circumstances in which to be a single parent, and especially a single male parent, whose genes are directed towards problem solving. Surely sensitive and attentive listening is for those who don't have solutions at their fingertips. A father for all seasons has the solution-du-jour, the menu-del-dia, right there all the time. Just call it up – hit recall and up it pops. That's parenting sorted out. What's the next question? Was I listening at all?

Back when I used to work in the telecom industry we used to joke about clients or colleagues who were on “transmit” and not “receive” – clever code to distinguish people who were too busy talking and never took the time to listen. And now here I am, doing the same thing over and over again. Transmitting and not listening. Too many hours in the hot room? Or maybe not enough?

I wonder why it comes as a surprise when I remember Marianne's words, her reminder to me just to listen; just as simple as that – listen. Don't immediately jump to the conclusion that a solution is required or expected or even desired – just listen. Switch to receive; my partner has their finger on transmit and they need to talk. The very act of talking is healing in itself – thus explaining the counseling industry to a large extent.

It still comes as a difficult lesson to be reminded that one's role is often just to listen. That is hard enough: active, attentive, ask-me-at-the-end, let-me-take-the-test kind of listening. Hearing alone is never enough. I have to listen hard. It's a big job; conversation is a two way street, so listening is an essential part of the dance; and at the still point, there is only the dance.

My wish, when I go back into that hot room to take part once again in that dance, is to listen. Dialogue is a conversation between at least two people; it may be my voice and your body but I still have the obligation to listen to what your body is saying. And then modify our behaviour accordingly – both yours and mine. Otherwise I am not listening to you – not hearing your needs. That is a failing grade in my book. One cannot stand on the podium with the finger on transmit for ninety minutes and assume it all went well. If only life were that easy. We have to listen.

So now, as that single male parent, that all knowing role model, it's a hard thing to admit that one doesn't have a solution right there at the fingertips. But it is human after all. And maybe that is a better role model after all. We make mistakes and we don't always know all the answers. But we can give all of our attention when it is requested.

I'll try to do better tomorrow.

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