When I was young, my daddy went to church exactly two times a year, once on Mother’s Day and once for the Nativity Service to see me dressed up as a manger animal. I would watch him sit down beside Mama on the church pew and nonchalantly reach up to turn off his hearing aid. He would sit through the rest of the service with a pleasant smile on his face, not hearing a god damn word the preacher said.
Sometimes, I wonder how many of us are doing the exact same thing – we listen to people speak, but don’t really hear what they say. I hate to admit how often I catch myself just sitting there with a pleasant smile on my face, not hearing a god damn word. The other day, my kids were asking me 100 questions while I was making breakfast, packing lunches, and mentally preparing for the workshop I was about to lead on something ironic like Mindfulness.
“Mom, can you get strawberry jelly next time?”
“Mom, can I have a sleepover this weekend?’
“Mom, did you sign me up for dance?”
“Mom, did you know the dog just barfed?”
I nodded and gave them the cursory, “mmm-hmm.” Then my husband came down the stairs.
“Hon, can you get my shirts at the cleaners?”
“Are you sure they’ll be ready by 5 o’clock?”
“Is this recycling day or garbage day?”
“Did you notice the dog barf in living room?”
I was visualizing the sequence I had been working on the day before as I nodded again.
Later at the studio, a few students were lingering after class as I blew out candles, re-organized props, and contemplated whether the mat-cleaning spray would work on a dog barf stain. I heard snippets of their conversation and nodded my head every so often. Once they are gone, I found myself immersed in silence for the first time that day. I let myself settle into it as though it were a lazy boy recliner. I let my thoughts sink into the cushion of calm. I noticed how present I felt in that calm, quiet place. I reclined further and looked back over my day to realize that I had been absent for the majority of it. I had been physically there, but emotionally and mentally I had been deaf to all of it. I had turned off my hearing aid and put on a happy face. I hadn’t really heard a god damn word.
I didn’t hear my daughter’s doubt about asking her new friend over for a sleepover. She changed schools this year, and has been feeling lonely. I didn’t hear how nervous my husband was about his board meeting the next day, the one he needed the cleaned shirt for. I didn’t hear the need for connection beyond the mat that my students had. That realization made me feel like, well, dog barf.
I made a promise to myself to start living with my hearing aid turned on. It’s only been a few weeks, and it has already been a challenge. I frequently find myself answering an email while talking on the phone, listening to the news and my children at the same time, smiling, nodding. But like any challenge, I find the rewards worth the efforts. Yesterday, my teenage son wanted to talk to me about some of the kids in his class who are starting to get into trouble. He gave me a subtle cue to start the conversation. Had I missed it, I might have missed the opportunity to talk to him openly about the importance of staying true to your self when peer pressure kicks in.
Today, my daughter gave me some of the most important advice an 8-year old has probably ever shared with an adult. We were going to meet my web designer so I could sign off on a new project. Caroline wanted to walk to the meeting, but I was nervous that we were going to be late. Begrudgingly, I acquiesced. As we walked down the sidewalk hand in hand, I resisted the urge to check for a text from my web designer. I tried to be present as she talked to me about what color she wanted to paint her toenails. I did, however, gently remind her that we were in hurry.
“Mom, I know you do a lot of important, really awesome stuff, and I know my life is really easy cause I’m a kid and I don’t have to do that much. But sometimes, I wish you didn’t worry so much. I mean the world is not going to end if you’re a little late for a meeting.”
Had I been checking my text messages, I might have smiled and nodded, “mmm-hmm.” Thankfully, I had my hearing aid turned on and I heard her, I really heard her. I slowed my pace and asked her what color she thought I should paint my toenails.
“How about turquoise? That’d be so awesome. Not many moms can pull it off, but I think you can.”
I heard that.
How often do you go through your day smiling and nodding, listening without really hearing? I’m here to tell you that you just might be missing something really awesome. As yogis, we are always talking about tuning in.
“Tune in to the breath.”
“Tune in to your body.”
“Tune in to your intuition.”
Sometimes, we get so tuned in to ourselves that we become tuned out to everyone else. Do you hear me?
photo credit 1: faungg
photo credit 2: Rochelle, just rochelle