Listening: Act III

This project is not going particularly well. Or it’s proceeding perfectly.

I am not succeeding in being a good listener, but I am becoming aware of how bad I am at listening. It’s uncomfortable knowledge, but I’d rather know it than not. Maybe this is the kind of thing God was talking about when he told us eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil led to death. Knowing I am not a good listener helps me see where I am doing evil and where I could do good, but this knowledge could easily eat me alive. I’m a gold-star junkie and the fact of my underperforming could commandeer this whole ship. Project Me could become the point all too easily. Which of course would miss the point entirely.

In order to stay the course, I need to get out of my own head a little bit this week. Nature has never failed me in this context: one of its miracles is the ability to authenticate my self through being something other than myself. It’s grounding. In attending nature, I realize both that my feet walk the soil and that I am not the soil.

My devotion this week (in addition to the hard work of observing my serial failure at the previous tasks) is to park in the furthest spot from the door each place that I go.

Will the distance force me to listen to the world (such as it is) around me? Will the inconvenience remind me of the physical challenges through which others engage the world?  Will the extra seconds make me conscious of the attitude in which I enter a space? Will dragging my four year-old from the back of every parking lot finally make me stop dragging her?

In A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver also finds a holy challenge in nature’s dispassionate response. This blessing on the work of the week before you:

“I Go Down To The Shore”
by Mary Oliver

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

6 thoughts on “Listening: Act III

  1. I appreciate the post April and understand your frustrations with listening. It was my One Word last year and I really think that I am beginning to understand it this year as my One Word is fast! (Go figure!)

    The Lord bless you in your efforts!


  2. April, I love your writing.  I usually find it very inspirational.  That is not my reaction to this piece, and it is likely that is not the point or I am missing it.  But, I am going to say this anyway because you will kindly reply and help me see deeper meaning in a way that few have the grace to do (lord knows you English major kids have always been at least two levels deeper than me), or at least I will not have left unsaid what I want to say:  This is bullshit.  I have known you off and on for over 20 years and I have never experienced you as a bad listener.  However, the bullshit is a level deeper than that – it is bullshit to falsely dichotomize that you are either good or bad as a listener.  A more true statement in my eyes is that “you are not the listener that you want to be”.  There is a massive difference psychologically one from the other in terms of your own agency IMHO. Love,Drew

    • I’m glad you said this, Drew. (Though before addressing your main concern I do have to say it’s equally bullshit to say you’ve been or are somehow less deep.) Your comment helped me consider what, exactly, I mean by “listening” and I agree that some clarification is in order.

      I agree that “being a good listener” is not a singularity inasmuch as we’re thinking about listening as an act. Listening is an act– a behavior that one can engage or not engage moment by moment– and the devotional exercises I’ve been posting here are indeed focused on behaviors.

      But what I’m really interested in cultivating this season is listening as posture— a consistent stance– from which I engage the world and especially the people around me. Postures certainly include behaviors (which is why I’m practicing discreet acts each week) but my hope it that the consistent engagement in those acts will grow an attitude of reception and consideration– to begin to replace what I feel is my current general posture of consumption or expression.

      Basically, right now I feel like I’m generally out to be heard and sometimes remember to behave like I’m interested in listening. I’d rather be generally out to hear and sometimes behave like I have something that needs to be said. Does that make sense?

      Again, thanks for sharing this– I’m going to be thinking more deeply about the nature of listening and whether my understanding of the act and the attitude are indeed based on a false dichotomy. This conversation reminds me of an ongoing disagreement (not that I expect this to be one of those) I have with another friend over the nature of character. His position is that character is a person’s identity despite their actions; mine is that character is more like the accumulation of a person’s actions. Interesting stuff– and important for how we move in the world and in our inner landscapes.

      Thanks for being part of this process–

  3. April, sorry for the rudeness of my original reply here. I was over caffeinated and more profane than usual yesterday. I love the intention part of what you are doing. More and more I am seeing the power of intention in our own becoming. Thanks for your patience and clarifying.

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