The opposite of talking.
You would think is listening.
Or at least not talking.
But turns out for most of us. Or at least for me. Most of the time. Those aren’t the right answers.
The opposite of talking. Is waiting to talk.
And when I read that, in a coffee shop in Seattle, I cringed inside because I know it is more true than I want it to be.
My husband used to have a symbol to help me out in groups. He would tug on his ear when I needed to turn down the volume or worse when I kept interrupting. And I’d fill everyone else in on the joke. And usually keep going. Because awareness doesn’t always equal change.
And friends who have known me a while have their own way of dealing with my mouth.
One I work with just tries to tell people they just have to talk through me. And my oldest friends know to just ignore and eventually I tone it down and stop. And might even tell you this if we are out together. And they will be right.
Sometimes this bad habit of mine comes in handy. When people don’t know what to say. I usually just blaze through. I’m not afraid of awkward and eventually after enough words it usually isn’t awkward anymore. But. I don’t really come with volume control. Or an on-off button. And sometimes it is funny and entertaining. And others it is just obnoxious and rude.
I’ve been thinking that maybe my husband shouldn’t have to pull on his ear and my friends shouldn’t have to talk through. Or tell me to let someone else talk for a change.
So recently I’ve decided that I need to learn to listen. That surely it is a skill and something I just need to practice. Like running. Or playing an instrument. Something I can train myself to be better at.
(Confession, I wrote all of the above almost two months ago. And obviously forgot about it. To finish writing it. And certainly to practice it.)
Until this morning. My Sunday school class started a new study…and the first chapter and discussion was about the misconceptions of how we incorporate changes to our behavior. And we also talked about being quiet. And we didn’t do this, but the group study guide suggests starting each session with five minutes of silence. Not prayer or meditation or or breathing deeply or listening to someone else. But just five short minutes of being quiet. Like some odd grown up version of the quiet game that I would surely lose. I’m not the girl that walks in the house and turns on the TV, but I do often have the radio on. In my car turned up. On my ipod when I run. And on my computer when I try to get work done. There is a constant soundtrack going on behind me. Or I’m on the phone. Or writing down all my thoughts. Which is pretty much the same thing as outloud. And that is how I process. I have to talk or write it out. But maybe not all the time.
To answer the question of why waste five minutes by being quiet? Essentially the book said this…We live in a world filled with noise and distraction. It is easy to enter the last conversation while still processing the last one (or in my case, while having 2-3 other ones going on at the same time outoud, on my phone and in my head), In the midst of all this it is hard to hear God much less each other. Silence, is meant in preparation to listen. (the book: The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith in case you were wondering)
So I got home. And locked myself in the bathroom and figured I’d give it a try. The whole Quaker silence things as always intrigued me. Their worship services are essentially an hour of quiet. Just thinking about it makes me fidgety. My favorite part of yoga is the last five or so minutes laying flat on my back. Just breathing. In and out. Tired. Sweaty and somehow centered in a way I don’t usually get to any other way. But even then, it is directed. Someone is talking. Telling me when to breathe. Telling me to be quiet. And it is one of the rare occasions that I actually am.
I looked at my watch and figured to give it a shot on my own sans all that downward dog and 100° temperatures. (and lets be honest, I have been to yoga in months). Five minutes. Essentially a really long commercial break. So I sat there. And tried to just be quiet to clear my head. And lasted almost a full minute before looking at my watch. I caught myself trying to pray. Or make a shopping list. A to-do list. And each time. I stopped myself. And looked at my watch again.
I can do quiet ok, it isn't easy for me. but I can. What I couldn't figure out was how to empty out my head. I thought maybe I’d wipe down the counters (and I assure you that is not a normal thought for me), but figured that would be cheating. I paid attention to my breathing because someone had suggested that earlier and it is what we do in yoga anyways. but. it just felt weird sitting there in the bathroom breathing deeply.
And there was all kinds of crazy going on outside the door. Tess was screaming. Owen was running up and down the hall and Shaun was yelling at the Cowboys on TV. I thought maybe I should cut this a minute short. And deal with all the crazy just a few inches from me. No one was crying. Or bleeding. And that, surely, I could last another two minutes. I even plunged my fingers into my ears for a few seconds.
And by now I was staring at the second hand on my watch. So, I decided to try a new strategy. To listen and see how much I could hear. And I don’t mean I was listening for God. Because. I think more often than not I am making up what I think he is saying anyways. but just literally to see what I could hear besides the screaming, laughing running.
And I heard the hum of the air-conditioner. And a bird outside. I heard the words my kids were saying rather than just the noise. And there was no super human hearing. I didn’t hear a pin drop the next block over. Or even have any major epiphany. And that last minute, was somehow easier than all the others. There were less mental lists or conversations. Except one.
Where I realized that it took me almost five full minutes of being quiet for me to start actually listening. And that was a lesson well worth my time.
...and I song I could listen to over and over...