Who Is Listening?

Many years ago, at the Farmer’s Market in Ithaca, my husband and I were slowly wandering from booth to booth soaking in the colors and bounty from local farms. My dearest friend, Connie, was with us as we paused in front of the booth of a local artist, Jim Hardesty. Before us were dozens of Chinese brush paintings….sinuous strokes of ink and pigment transformed into birds and flowers. And, Kwan Yin.

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I felt like she was calling my name. Calling me to invite her into my life.

Kwan Yin, Quan Yin, Kuanyin, Guanyin, Padma-pâni. Her name means

One Who Sees and Hears the Cry from the Human World.

Many of us have felt compassion towards someone else. We feel the pain and suffering of others, especially of those we love deeply. We long, almost ache, to find a way to ease their suffering.

Life is a series of waves coming ashore. There are waves of love, kindness, forgiveness and generosity. And right behind those waves are the waves of violence, division, indifference and cruelty. Lapping the shore. Pushing and pulling on our heart and our fears. Some days we may feel as if we are drowning in our own suffering or in the pain of someone we love. Barely, we keep our head above the waters churning and foaming. Some days we soften, relax, let go and float softly, cradled in a lullaby of the calm waters.

When we turn away from, run from, harden ourselves against that which is painful, we are turning away from that which is a part of life. We can become protective. We may begin to live in fear.

We can, instead, choose to look at that pain and fear and open our heart to compassion. Like a beautiful garden, tended with love from the heart, compassion grows from generosity, wisdom, loving kindness, empathy, equanimity and courage. The fruits and flowers from this garden have the power to heal suffering.

Compassion is a way, a path, of maneuvering through a world and life that brings each one of us beauty and love and well as pain and suffering.

Compassion is not reserved only for those we love and respect. It is also for those who may threaten or frighten us. This is a world full of billions of people we will never know, yet our compassion in thought, and deed must include these people too. There are human beings in the world facing intolerable suffering. Of such magnitude that I will venture to say no one reading this can even imagine the degree of suffering.

Somewhere in all this we have to think about and come to terms with the fact that our ability to heal through compassion walks side by side with our capacity to cause the suffering. And we choose…..we choose and then learn to heal or we increase the divides between us.

Enter Kwan Yin. She is sometimes holding a willow branch, flexible, able to bend and not break, even in the strongest of winds or fiercest of deluge. Other times she has a thousand arms and one, all seeing eye. She is in constant awareness and her response is all embracing. Sometimes she is a warrior brandishing weapons to root out suffering. Mine holds quince blossoms from time immemorial. Kwan Yin hears the cries of our suffering. The suffering of the people of the world. And she reaches out with compassion to heal that suffering.

I know I feel overwhelmed sometimes by the magnitude and breadth of the suffering of people around the world. I don’t, and I don’t believe I can, have the answers. But, I can choose to hear the cries, to listen to the stories, to care. To not run or hid from the suffering of others. In so doing I begin to see “the rest of the story.” The loneliness and fear in and of others, the blame and anger, the mistrust, the intolerance and ignorance. Awareness teaches us how to be helpful through compassion, kindness, strength. It gives rise to understanding and and a desire to bring about the end of suffering.

We don’t have the power to change the hearts of others. We do, however, have the power and responsibility for our own state of mind, the values we carry within our heart. We make the choice to stand hand in hand with those who work endlessly to alleviate the pain of war, disease, hunger, oppression. Or, we walk hand in hand with those who spread fear, mistrust, violence, persecution, revenge.

In order to hear the cries of the world and to find the courage and strength to uplift through compassion we first have to allow our own hearts to be open. We have to look within. We have to close our eyes and listen. To the noise of the world, the cries of those in pain and who are suffering. When we have heard, we open our eyes to see, then we choose what we will do. We take action.

Who is listening?

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.”

~Warsan Shire

Who is listening?

Check out this week’s readings:  This Week

Wisdom Dreams

I once dreamt I was telling stories and felt someone patting my foot in encouragement.
I looked down and saw that I was standing on the shoulders of an older woman
who was steadying my ankles and smiling up at me.
I said to her, “no no come stand on my shoulders,
For you are old and I am Young.”

“No no” she insisted, “this is the way it is supposed to be.”
I saw that she stood on the shoulders of a woman far older than she,
who stood on the shoulders of a woman even older,
who stood on the shoulders of a woman in robes,
who stood on the shoulders of another soul, who stood on the shoulders…

~Clarissa Pinkola Estés

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sunrise this morning

I admit it. I am a firm believer that some dreams are messages that I need to pay attention to. For me, they can be a processing tool, a problem solving tool, or sometimes, even a window into the future. There are times when my dreams are like an encyclopedia that has blown open to a page of facts, truths, possibilities that I need to know.

Most religions discuss the interpretation of dreams. Theologians, psychologists, therapists, musicians, poets, people who pay attention to dreams, see them as a connection, a nexus between the body, mind and spirit. There is a universal understanding that dreams connect us to something greater than ourselves. They provoke a sense of wonder and awe that by their nature are the essence of mystical experiences.

That which the dream shows is the shadow of such wisdom as exists in man,
even if during his waking state he may know nothing about it….
We do not know it because we are fooling away our time with outward and perishing things,
and are asleep in regard to that which is real within our self.

~Paracelsus

So, if you’ve been following this blog, you know I am an admirer of Clarissa Pinkola Estés. When I read the above quote the proverbial light bulb of understanding lit up. As a Jungian psychologist and story teller Pinkola Estés’ dream integrated the ideas of messages found in dreams and the importance of each person being a story teller.

In our world today I believe that both of these things are important. I think we have become disoriented and separated from spirituality and our connectedness. We no longer know our own stories of where we came from, who we are, what matters to us, what our connections are, how we are related and connected to each other. We have become impatient or disinterested in hearing the stories others cry out for us to hear. There is a restlessness, an uneasiness in me that worries that we have lost the connection to and understanding of a compelling gift: dreams.

Pinkola Estés not only reminds us to allow and pay attention to the dreams that arise during sleep, but to remember we are standing on, supported by, encouraged and emboldened by those who have come before us. The falterings, the successes, the hopes and dreams of others are the foundation on which we stand.

Those pillars of known and unknown persons in the past gently tap us with encouragement and with a reminder that we must give voice to our own story as well as give witness to the stories of others.

We are the dreamers. We are the story tellers. We are the pillars for those still to come.

“Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking.”~ Black Elk

“A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.’
~The Talmud

Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you.”
~Marsha Norman

“Dreams say what they mean, but they don’t say it in daytime language.”
~Gail Godwin

 

 

 

First: Listen

This is attempt number 4. I’m sticking with this one.

There are two challenging things to teach young preschoolers, who have fledgling social experience and skills due to their age. In a time of “conflict” with another friend, these are stop and listen. Stop moving . Make eye contact and listen. Everyone has words they want to use, usually to defend their own position. Usually there is some worry or fear thrown in too. Worry they may have knowingly or unknowingly done something wrong. Fear, perhaps, that part of personal accountability may be one of those things called a “consequence”. Fear and worry are defense mechanisms. We all experience them.

Turn on the news and people use lots and lots of words. But, it seems to me, many of the words come from fear and defensive posturing rather than in response to listening.

When you listen you gain the opportunity for discovery and understanding. Discovery and understanding do not mean agreement and acceptance. They means you have the chance to learn something you did not know.

And then, you can have a conversation.

The usual reason for stop and listen, for a preschooler, is that they hurt someone’s feelings, took something without asking, or hit someone. When they stop and listen, they hear “You said I couldn’t play with you, it makes me sad.”, “You took the shovel I was using may I have it back?”, “You hit me and hurt my body. That’s not OK. Don’t do it again.” Most of the time the child listening really doesn’t grasp the cause and effect of what they did, and now they do. Usually the hurt person just wants a hug, a show of care and compassion from the other person, and confirmation that next time will be better.

Things most certainly become more complicated as we grow up.

I went to a Black Lives Matter protest because I am concerned and care deeply that a part of our American population, the Black community, is suffering so deeply. I go to meetings on Autism  becasue I care about the struggles and pain people who are Autistic experience as they work so hard to find a meaningful place in society. A place of acceptance and where they can feel valued. I go to meetings on Child Abuse becasue I care that there are children who suffer deeply from abusive situations. I go, and I listen to learn. I cannot offer much, because Autism and Child Abuse are not areas I have much training in or experience with. But both affect part of the community I work with, preschoolers.

I went to a Black Lives Matter protest to listen. I do not know what it is like to be Black in America. I don’t. Just like I don’t know what it is like to be Autistic or a survivor of abuse. I do not know. They are a part of my community and the quality of their lives and the degree of their suffering affect the community I live in.

I can only become a more educated person through listening. Going to a protest is not saying I don’t care about something else. Caring about the oppression of one group of people does not mean I don’t care about a group that faces different forms of challenges, risk, oppression or suffering.

So, I heard stories of pain and fear. Pain and fear affect people. These are traumatic emotions that scar and are difficult to overcome.The consequences of fear and pain change the way people respond in life. The way they interact with and live life.

I have never, in 58 years of life experienced the level of pain and fear that was shared. Yes, I have felt pain and I have experienced fear, but not on the same level of magnitude where I fear for my life and safety and for the life and safety of my loved ones. I have never experienced that.

Bruce and I were stopped for a significant traffic violation a while back. We did not pull over into the opposite lane when a police officer was stopped with their lights on and out of the car. When we were pulled over we were asked for the registration it was taking time to  find it in the mess of the glove compartment. Finally he said,”It’s okay. Go ahead. Be careful next time.” We both understood, for real, “This is white privilege.” Personally, we both felt ashamed and embarrassed.

I  have no right to assume I know what someone’s life is like. Whether their struggles are real or not. I have no right to judge someone’s pain and suffering, anger and fear without listening first. I have no right to make a suggestion or offer advice until I listen first. I do have the choice of asking someone to tell me what they are experiencing, feeling. What life is like for them on a daily basis. I do have a choice of asking what do they need, what will make things better, healthier, safer for them.

As an educated adult, I have a responsibility that I take seriously, to never assume I know the answers or that I know all I need to know. I have a responsibility to keep listening, learning, developing, becoming more knowledgeable, informed, aware. Not less. Not even the same. More.

I have a personal responsibility to understand I may have to admit that I have been wrong. Uninformed.  That I may learn things about myself and my society that I would rather not know, let alone accept as fact.

So, I listened. And I listened and heard that I do not understand the struggle of the Black Community in Ithaca and in the US. It does not cause harm to me or diminish me to say this. It is just the truth. I do not understand. “Do all Blacks share in this struggle?” Is that the correct question? No. “Why is anyone suffering in this way?” is the question. That anyone struggles and suffers is the issue.

When I listen, it becomes difficult to lay the blame on the victim. It becomes difficult to say “She deserved it”, “They asked for it”, “They are just ‘takers'”, “They’ve got to work harder”, “How bad could it be? They have a cell phone”, “If she didn’t sleep with so many people she wouldn’t have so many kids”, “They need to just buck up and try harder”, “That’s the choice they made. They have to live with it”, “My Black friends say this isn’t true”, “I made it. They could too, if they wanted to”, “They are lazy”, “If they wanted to stop drugs, they would”, “There are lots of jobs out there they could do”, “If they are so poor how can they go on vacation?”.

Do not blame victims. Listen to them. Talk with them.

I don’t know the answers. I feel conflicted. I am confused. I have the ability to work to find out what the answers are, or might be and how to make them happen. I have the strength to look at why I feel conflicted and change it to being informed. I can embrace confusion without embarrassment and ask for conversations so I can be clear on what is the truth. Not my truth. The truth for the person I am listening to and engaging in a conversation with. I must have many conversations and listen to many, many stories because each one will be different. This is not one person’s story or one person’s interpretation.

I care and I am grateful I care. Because not caring is apathy and apathy allows for things to remain the same. And now, for me, the same is not something that is ok with me if it means we are stereotyping, marginalizing, oppressing, killing people out of fear and ignorance.

We are going to have to look inward and then open our hearts and work together to make things better. To make things right.

 

Witnessing

“But there is another kind of listening, a listening that we neglect at our own peril, that is not about getting some particular place, but simply about witnessing another human being. This kind of listening is long and open-ended. It’s patient. It’s curious. It’s not calculating. This kind of listening operates on only one level — the words coming out, the way they hit the ear, the shaping of a story, a sadness, a yearning, a wish.”

Courtney E. Martin, columnist for On Being

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The other day I had an intense and loving conversation with a friend. Her daughter has an eating disorder, her friend is very ill, someone else is going through difficult times, her neighbor has some mental health concerns that worry her, she herself has some auto immune issues, her body hurts……

I felt like if I spoke I would interrupt this flow of life she was trying to process. I really didn’t feel like I could offer very many words of advice, or comfort that would ease her hurt, so I listened. Just met her eyes and listened. She talked, and released, teared up, and regained composure. She talked more about how all these things happening to other people come creeping into her life and thoughts and prayers as worry and fear. She cried about the fear of the things happening to her. And I listened. She cried and struggled, but in a way it was like a beautiful song. A song of everything that makes us human.

When it was time to leave she hugged me tight “THANK YOU!!” she said, “for being here for me. For just listening.”

Then I came home and read an article on On Being With Krista Tippett, http://www.onbeing.org/about and thought, “Oh yes. This is it.”

Another kind of listening. Witnessing another human being. That’s what had transpired. What I had experienced with my friend were her words coming out shaping a story, sadness, yearnings, wishes. My witnessing her story by listening.

I wish we could do this more often. Not just with the people we love and care for, but also with the people we don’t know well, maybe shy away from, or fear. People who are not like us. People who have experiences we will never have. I wish we could witness their life story, their intrinsic value. Witness them as another human being.

I agree with the author that this other kind of listening can also happen when we are in positions where we can’t help but overhear the conversations of others…if we listen, we may hear their story. We may find ourselves witnessing their humanness, their tenderness or fragility. Their story. The person in the next booth at the diner. The person talking on the phone next to us in line. The two friends sharing coffee. The human interest stories on the news. The answer we get or maybe don’t get, when we ask, “How are you?”

At the end of the piece Courtney writes, “It’s an overlooked kind of love….and it doesn’t happen often enough.”

Can we offer this overlooked kind of love to others? Allowing “the shaping of a story, a sadness, a yearning, a wish” of another?

More than the general conversation we regularly have. More than the “Oh I know how you feel. That’s happened to ME!!” More than the “Hang in there, it will be ok.” More than offering suggestions and advice. More than answering our cell phone in the middle of someone’s sentence, waving our finger saying “Hold on just one minute.” More than what we usually do. Allowing it to be someone else’s story, experience, grief, joy. Allowing them to shape it, define it. Allowing it to be theirs. Witnessing the value and importance of this story for this person.

Do we? Do you?

Through The Eye of Someone Else

“Sometimes the easiest way to appreciate ourselves
is by looking through the eye of someone who loves us.”
~Tara Brach

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(Feb. 28, 2015)

I carry a fair share of self doubt and lack of confidence around. I am prone to feeling I could have/should have done more. I trip over thoughts about whether I am smart enough, creative enough. We all have thoughts of self doubt and experience lack of confidence.

During the past few years I’ve been working on listening to others…hearing them and the words they speak. I try not to interrupt or interject my thoughts and perspectives. I try to listen through their experiences not through mine.

Curiously, there have been a handful of times when the words I heard opened my own heart and gifted me an unexpected blessing: to be able to appreciate myself by looking through the eye of someone who loves me.

The experiences were humbling. The insight made me feel foolish for wallowing in self doubt and holding tight to the lack of confidence.

When those pesky thoughts of doubt and uncertainty creep into my thoughts I take that little, tiny moment, like the pause between a breath, and recall those life stirring words. I am uplifted.

The words that provided this new lens to look through, to see how others saw and felt about me were not grandiose, ego inflating words of praise. They were the words my daughter shared about when she  had her own moment of insight into her love for us, her parents. They were the words of my son who thanked us for being who we are and raising him as we did. They were the words of a niece who commented that I seemed so comfortable with who I was. They were the words of a young parent who was grateful for my stories of parenting. They were the words of a friend who thanked me for friendship. Words and thoughts that could have fallen victim to the spell of doubt and lack of self esteem if I had not had the courage to listen to the spoken words and hear them. To hear them as the individual’s personal truth that could not be subjected to my self doubt. I am guilty of sometimes feeling my love is not strong enough, that my choices may be flawed, that my perspectives may be unbalanced, that my caring for a friend may not be strong enough. Self doubt at full strength.

Listen to and hear the words offered to you that unlock the lens to see through the eye of one who loves you. Understand that you are of importance to others and take a breath in and allow yourself to appreciate you for the person you are. The real person you are. Unadorned, imperfect, growing, fallible, honest, truthful, rough around the edges, caring. It matters. Those may be the qualities that matter most to those who love you. They may be part of your secret beauty.

“When we see the secret beauty of anyone,
including ourselves, we see past our judgment and fear
into the core of who we truly are –
not an entrapped self but the radiance of goodness.”
~ Tara Brach