When Breathing is Listening

There’s a lot of noise in the world today. It’s easy to want to throw my voice in, to announce my support or disappointment. But I need to remember to stop and listen. This month’s theme at SheLoves Magazine is “Amplify” and I have the honor to be over there today, reflecting on how we amplify those around us by actively listening. Here’s an excerpt – I hope you’ll join the conversation over at SheLoves!

Annie-Rim-Breathing-is-Listening6A few years ago, I participated in a workshop about active listening. I assumed I was a good listener—I’m attentive, I look people in the eye, I nod along, acknowledging our shared experience. What I did not realize is that this is not, in fact, active listening.

Our guide paired us off and we sat facing each other, both feet planted on the floor, hands on knees, posture straight. We were instructed to look at our partner and listen to them respond to a prompt. While we listened, we could not make any facial expressions, nod our heads, or give affirmative hums. We had to simply listen. Listen without looking for connections, listen without acknowledging a shared experience, listen fully and openly.

What I learned during this exercise is that, while I thought I was fully engaged with others, I was actually looking to insert myself into their life. I was nodding along, showing that I agreed or empathized. In reality, I was making the listening about me, not about them. It was a counterintuitive experience, this practice of fully listening without response.

I don’t think there is anything wrong in looking for connection with others. By finding commonalities and shared experiences, we break down walls and barriers. Finding that link forges friendships and alliances that are important as we learn about others.

But it’s a balance. Especially when I’m listening to those who don’t have a platform or those who are sharing stories of oppression—stories in which I don’t have shared commonalities—I need to stop and actively listen. I need to stop nodding as though I understand and let their words wash over me. I need to ground my feet to this earth, place my hands on my knees, and give full attention to the experiences of my neighbors. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest!

What are ways you actively listen? Are you a doer or a thinker, when it comes to responding to events around you?

Listening to Myself

I’m sitting on a blue and white striped bedspread in a sweet little room named Nantucket. Boats and fishing nets and white curtains and distressed wood decorate this small room. The window is open and I listen to the little creek running through the backyard.

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View from my room

Last night, I arrived at this little bed and breakfast, just outside the city on the way to the mountains. I didn’t really know what to do with myself – Two whole nights by myself?? An entire day, just me? I was at a loss, and got a little antsy.

Unable to just stop. To breathe. To listen, I watched a movie, read some books, and went to bed so early. Perhaps by divine intervention, I left my computer charger at home and arrived here with a half-full battery. I’ll have to be more intentional about screen time tonight.

I had been asking for 24-hours to myself for a couple years now but the timing was always off – pregnancy and newborns just seemed to complicate plans for a retreat. With school underway and a free weekend on the calendar, we decided now was as good a time as any.

And so, I’m spending some time relearning how to listen to myself. With days spent listening to the needs of two small children, of listening to the needs of friends and our family dynamic, I fall into the trap so many moms seem to: I forget to listen to myself.

So, here I am in a little room. A stack of books that would take weeks to read, just in case. A dying computer for a bit of writing but nothing else. And the sound of the creek outside, reminding me that it’s ok to do all or none or some of what I imagined for this time of rest.

How do you stop and listen to yourself? What is the best way for you to find rest?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “listen.”

The Weight of Privilege

I’ve never thought too much about the Israeli-Palistinian conflict. I remember hearing about it in the news growing up – stories usually more on the side of Israel’s point of view, rather than balanced reporting. After moving to Paris, I began reading news stories told from a different point of view, as France seemed more sympathetic to the Palestinian side than America is. But, really, I viewed this conflict as never-ending and didn’t read too many other sources for information.

After reading The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan, the power of storytelling gave me insights into both sides of this story that I hadn’t thought of before. As someone reading from her cozy armchair in front of the fire, many pieces of the conflict seemed easily solved. And yet, here I am, sitting on land that didn’t belong to me or my ancestors, that was taken from someone else long ago. The complications of land, of story, of history are complex and the longer a conflict goes unresolved, the more knotted the outcome is to untangle.

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At the end of The Lemon Tree Dalia, an Israeli, realizes the privilege she has in listening to the Palestinian side of the conflict. She is able to find resolutions and compromise because she doesn’t have as much to lose – she isn’t a refugee nor has her land been reduced over the years with each “compromise.” She still doesn’t agree with her Palestinian friend, Bashir’s solutions, but she realizes the weight of privilege she brings to the conversation.

Her final realizations had me thinking about how we’re choosing to handle the conversations of privilege closer to home. It’s not just about me listening to people who are not being heard – though that is an important practice. It’s about me recognizing the weight of privilege I bring to conversations. Maybe I won’t agree with the proposed solutions or outcomes, but I need to remember my lens is that of someone whose privilege and assets are not being threatened.

How can I more effectively listen and join this conversation of reconciliation while recognizing my privilege? I can feel overwhelmed and feel that I have nothing to offer because I’m not being abused by any systems. And yet, listening and joining in the conversation is important – to speak up humbly to bring about my own point of view and to recognize that I have a unique perspective to offer, even if it is one of privilege.

How do you recognize your own privilege? Do you actively participate in conversations of reconciliation?

I read The Lemon Tree as part of SheLoves Magazine’s Red Couch Book Club. For thought-provoking books and discussion each month, I’d highly recommend checking it out!

Listen

Bea is obsessed with the Fantasia soundtrack these days. We listen to a few select pieces on repeat as we drive: “Girl with the Ball” (aka, Rhapsody in Blue), “Donald” (aka, Pomp and Circumstance), and “The Volcano” (aka, Firebird Suite). As we listen to the music, Bea asks for the stories, over and over again.

Her favorite at the moment is the Firebird Suite:

Our conversation usually goes something like this:
B: Mama, what’s happening now?
Me: Well, the volcano is erupting and lava is covering the earth.”
B: They are scared!
Me: Yes…
B: Mom, is the earth restored? Are they happy?
Note: This is a condensed version of what can be quite a long, circular conversation…

I love talking through the songs, helping her find meaning to those classic pieces. And, Bea loves anticipating the next scene – she gets excited or nervous or relieved, depending on the song. Last week, she was banging away on our piano keyboard and she ran in, exclaiming, “It’s the part when people are rushing away!” As she raced away to continue her composition, I noticed she was using all the low notes to create that feeling.

I was talking with a friend the other day about finding stories in music and art. I wondered how much I should feed into Bea’s need for an actual storyline and when I should start encouraging her to create her own ideas. I’ve tried asking, What do you think? but she’s insistent that I retell the story the way Disney imagined it. My friend and I talked about the importance of finding stories and meanings to help us interact – it’s so hard to just sit and listen or sit and look.

At the Clyfford Still Museum, I run into these same quandaries. Students ask, What does this mean? and I don’t get it! and I respond with, I don’t know. What do you think? Still’s intention was that the viewer brings her own experience to the art – he left very few notes on his process or the meaning behind his paintings. At first, this is a tough concept for students to grasp – they want to know the answers and they want me to tell them the correct answer. By the end of our visit, most are much more comfortable finding their own meaning within the painting and discussing different ideas for how Still created his pieces.

In art education, finding meaning is developmental. On one end of the spectrum, the viewer looks for a narrative. Even in nonrepresentational pieces, one can find birds or campfires or some sort of physical shape that helps tell the story. On the other end of the spectrum, a viewer can look at a painting and respond through feeling and emotion. There is no meaning beyond the present experience.

I was thinking about this process as I interact with people in my own life. I want to find meaning within their stories. As someone shares, I look for places I can connect; Where I can find a shape and create my own narrative within their story. I find it so difficult to simply sit and listen, to share an experience without looking beyond the moment. As much as I thrive on digging deeper and finding greater meaning, I also find it honoring when I can just sit in the present with a friend – when we are content to share life together without finding answers or creating a narrative.

Sometimes I wonder if that is part of redemption: When we are able to sit quietly in the moment, to listen to the music others create, and just listen without interjecting our own experience into their story. Or, more that we don’t need to interject our own experience into their story – that we have a realization of deep connectedness without having to express it in words.

How have you found ways to stop and listen?