27 October 2015
The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows. ~Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
This morning I lay in bed waking up slowly to the sounds of the earth. The Northern Flickers have moved back into the canyon where I live as they do this time of year, flying down from the higher elevations of the Sierras to winter in the foothills. The have a distinct call, piercing and strong enough that it arrows like a warning through the trees. They also have another call, soft and intimate, like a baby’s gurgle or a mother’s lullaby. That one you have to be lucky to hear, for it sinks into the duff of fallen leaves like raindrops, soft and quiet.
I’m being struck this week by the power of listening.
A couple of things have brought this home. A friend, who is a hospice physical therapist, described a training exercise used to hone skills that are helpful in his caring profession. Participants pair up to take turns listening to each other for 4 minutes. The person listening sits quietly, without interrupting or interjecting, without questions or nods. Their entire job is to simply be there, attending. Four minutes is a long time. Long enough that the person speaking often winds up off the known road, veering from the well-trod path. My friend described how a person can be brought to tears by finding themselves wandering in territory that is customarily off-limits, potentially into grief they had been unaware of carrying.
I’ve been experiencing something similar these last few weeks in an online free-write class. Three mornings a week, a beautiful, inspiring writing prompt has appeared in my email and the ‘assignment’ is to write, without stopping, for ten minutes. Those ten minutes are inevitably an adventure. There is a clear starting place but the path forward is obscure, the destination completely unmapped. After we write these unplanned, uncensored words, the group of us shares with each other; seven of us exposing what are often tender or raw places in this way. We read each others’ words, not to critique, but to support the journey, and to bear witness.
These places of free-flight sharing have a sacred quality to them. Venturing into them requires stepping beyond normal expectations of personality and proficiency. It needs to be safe. Day-to-day life doesn’t usually have space for this.
Yet, at times, I need it. I need to both speak from and listen to these deep, earthy places within us. It connects me to myself and to others. It connects me to my humanity, and to everyone’s. It makes me a better person.
That’s something I can always use.
It’s an immense privilege to have someone share their unguarded thoughts and feelings in this way. And there is relief, joy, power in having my soft, mysterious places heard and acknowledged. It can be a cleansing, a release of weight. A sliver rising to the surface where it can be tended and healed. A memory, a bright sparkly jewel, uncovered.
I think it takes uncommon conditions to create this kind of opening even with our loving partners and closest friends. It is not a place to dwell regularly. However, I’m passionate about helping co-create the safety and acceptance that engenders meaningful communication. And a step further—space that can attend to an exposing of a person’s native soil, the roots that feed the day-to-day experience visible above ground. Exactly like the roots of a plant, I think my underground thoughts and understandings affect how I relate to the people and circumstances of my life, the nutrients I perceive, the support I feel for growing up, reaching for sunlight.
99% of the life contained in healthy soil is invisible to the naked eye. Perhaps listening in is a way to connect to it.