Change Your Life
Day Four: Listening without Interrupting.
Listening in the Present
So there we were.
We’d had our lunch.
It was okay.
We’d talked about the book, and that was great . We were enjoying each other’s company. Luckily, the book had an “exercise/ game” that was a great one for Carol and I to play.
It’s the game you can try.
And now: hey, let’s try the main exercise of the precursor book of mine. It’s a pretty good game. It changed our lives. Maybe it can change yours.
You can do it with a mate.
I’ve done it with strangers, though you need a congenial setting like a yoga workshop where strangers approaching strangers isn’t too weird. I’ve done it with visitors to a garden I was creating in Sonoma. (The Sonoma Garden Park, which still is thriving. If you are ever in the town of Sonoma, go out to East 7th and Denmark and visit.)
And the exercise for your mate, your friend, a co-worker, a child, a parent, a congenial stranger.
It’s this: Talking in turns. To a timer. Slightly artificial but the requirement of NO INTERRUPTION gives it a big boost.
Talking for a set amount of time, to a timer, seems “too structured,” until you do it. Then you realize how rarely do people really listen to you. As in, almost never.
And more to the brutal and wonderful point: how often do you, wonderful reader, yes you (or me, for that matter, wonderful me) listen without interrupting?
The deeper goal is to be so present while listening that you aren’t busy formulating responses. Which is what we usually interrupt with. We sort of listen, and then get our own response which is just SO IMPORTANT to blurt into the conversation. And we go into “pseudo-listening,” where we are often merely repeating to ourselves over and over what our SO IMPORTANT remark will be when we can finally interrupt.
And we go on fine tuning for that slight break in their narrative so we can jump in with our SO IMPORTANT bit of hooey.
The deal is this: what they are saying might not be so important. But it is what they want to say.
If they are trying to be present when they are really alive to the moment.
(IF YOU TRY TO BE PRESENT AS YOU TALK, YOU WILL DISCOVER WHY MEDITATION RETREATS ARE USUALLY SILENT. IT IS VERY, VERY, VERY HARD TO BE YAPPING AND PRESENT AT THE SAME TIME).
Even if they aren’t present at least:
One: They get listened to for five minutes.
Two: You get to practice not interrupting for five minutes.
Three: You can watch your thoughts/ reactions come up and realize that you can live just fine without blueing them out.
Four: You may well be delightfully surprised at how pleasant it is to really listen to another person.
And so, dear reader, here it comes, a truly transformative practice.
You don’t interrupt.
You may discover that remarking, even after five minutes, on what the other said, can create unhealthy vibrations.
Especially if what one of you ventures into in the five minutes is a complaint that you’ve been waiting to say.
So, we’ll set this game up at two levels.
You need only do the first level today.
There is a third level for some more advanced day, but today, let’s start.
Let’s start talking and not interrupting and even carrying it to a deeper level: no commenting on what the other person said.
So, here’s the first level game of listening for today.
Exercise/ game #2: Listening in the Present.
Sit near each other.
Have a timer.
Set the timer for four minutes. Yes, four. That’s enough for a start. You’ll see.
One person talks.
For four minutes.
About anything important to them.
Except any complaints about the other, or the other’s family/ friends, etc.
And except comments about “the relationship.”
Now, for many couples, this denudes the conversation of all that was talked of before.
So be it.
There is the present to talk about.
There are goals (other than relationship goals).
There are gratitudes.
There are observations about life.
There is being present and honest: “I don’t know what to say next.” “I’m sitting here wondering that you are thinking.” “I’m sitting here afraid you are judging me.” “I’m sitting here wanting you to like or be impressed with what I’m saying.”
This is called being vulnerable.
This is good for people.
Try it and see.
One person talks for four minutes.
If the talker “runs out of things to say,” just sit quietly. Even if they try to squirm out of it by saying, “I’m out of things to say, you take a turn,” don’t. Just give them attention, words or no words, until the timer buzzes off.
When the timer rings.
Breathe deeply together for three breaths.
Switch direction for another four minutes.
Repeat this two more times.
Gasp…. that’s all of 24 minutes, plus some deep breaths.
Many couples feel they don’t have this much time.
Then the question becomes: why are you together? As roommates? As partners in raising children and making up schedules for events?
Life needs more than this.