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Last year I practiced softer living, finding space to let myself be open to all possibilities. To say yes more often than automatically saying no when an opportunity presented that seemed too hard or uncomfortable to manage. As 2018 approached, I thought about what I wanted to achieve over the next twelve months to continue fitting into a skin that felt comfortable. What could I work on that would help me be a better version of myself and a better human in this world?
“Mom!” That’s the voice of my youngest dragging me out of my contemplation and forcing me back to the present. “Did you hear me?”
“Of course.” Truth? I did not hear her. She sighs and I pick up my phone. I scroll through a social media feed and notice a post from a favorite clothing boutique of mine. The post announces that the color of 2018 is ultra-violet purple. I get excited because for once I have something to say that my thirteen-year-old may actually be interested in hearing.
“Guess what, C? Did you know that the color of 2018 is purple? Like Fall Out Boy’s new album, Mania!” I’m so stoked because I know she’s going to think this is super-cool.
Instead, she shakes her head at me and says, “I told you that.”
“You told me that? When?”
“Um, like two weeks ago. Do you ever listen to me?”
Fair question considering I had no idea what she said to me several minutes earlier when I was contemplating what would make me a better version of myself and a better human in the world.
Oh, wait. I hear it. I’m listening.
Rather, I’m not and I need to listen more. I must listen better. That’s what’s going to make me a better version of myself. That’s what’s going to make me a better human in the world.
Do you have this problem too?
It’s not that I’m not interested in what people are saying to me. It’s that I have a mind that is always thinking minutes, days, years into the future. As much as I’ve grown on my mindful journey over the past 12 months, the truth is that being present is still very difficult for me.
If you’re like me and find yourself having difficulty engaging in active listening, how about we practice changing this together this year? Here are some ideas I’ve developed to guide me toward being an active listener.
Let’s slow our bodies. Take time to slow our minds. Enjoy doing one thing and doing it completely without distraction. Think about the last time you read a book or watched a movie without having your phone within arms’ reach. Or, let’s be honest, the last time you didn’t have it in your hand scrolling social media while watching a show. I’ve watched many shows like this and I’ll tell you that I remember little about anything I was doing at the time. I’ve been like this since I was a kid. I couldn’t even watch a TGIF sitcom without working on a puzzle at the same time or cross-stitching (yes, I was a teen who liked to cross-stitch on a Friday night. Nothing wrong with that. It kept me from a lot of trouble.).
While it’s great that we’re able to multi-task – and sometimes it’s necessary – most of the time it’s not. Let’s try to focus on one thing at time this year and slow it down. Deal?
Then ask some more and some more. Really engage with the person you’re sharing space with at the moment. Of course, you don’t want to be intrusive or smothering. Use your judgement. I find that my mind wonders during conversations to other things – not even interesting things – and I untangle myself from the dialogue. Catching back up isn’t always easy and you find yourself in an “ultra-violet Mania” situation.
Asking questions is a way for me to stay immersed in the dialogue. It helps me be an active listener. Do you think it could help you?
This is quite inarguably the most opposite thing of meditation and living in the present you can do, but it will get you one step closer to intentional living.
Hear me out.
Sometimes you have to clear space in your head. For me, as a fiction writer, not only do I have thoughts pertaining to everyday life bouncing around in my head; I also have all these stories constantly shooting through my brain like balls in a pinball machine. It’s exhausting and, honestly, meditation doesn’t always help tame my wild monkey brain. Sometimes I need to think it all out.
When your brain is filled to its max with a million thoughts let them loose. Let them run like the wild little monkeys they are until they exhaust themselves. I like to sit down with a notebook and write nonsense. Write whatever comes out until my hand hurts and I feel spent. I find that doing this clears the space I need to find my way back to being in the present. Choosing to binge-think is a type of intentional thought because you’re recognizing that it’s time for just a while to let your wild monkeys roam freely.
When we listen, we hear the heartbeat of the world.
Active listening is challenging. However, a year of living softer and learning how to guide my thoughts to better serve me, has taught me that so much of the world doesn’t listen. Maybe if you we start at home, one moment at a time, that will create a snowball effect that leads to less discord and more peace. Just a thought, but one I like to think it worth exploring. How about you?