I’ve told you before that I’m a teacher IRL. And this year, it’s pushing me in ways it never has before, not only because of the work load and the shift in delivery methods, but also because we have been mandated to provide social/emotional support through an advisory class.
I forge good relationships with my students in normal times, but trying to develop connections online and support them in times of trauma and stress is pushing me to be more vulnerable myself and engage in ways that I normally would not.
It’s not always comfortable. I’m not a touchy-feely, nurturing type. But I am perceptive, and I do care deeply. I’ve made a career of reading between the lines, connecting people to resources, and bolstering students to rise to my high expectations.
I’m good at my job.
But I’m not good at bringing those qualities home.
Today, my morning meditation from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening was this:
“What is so important that we have time to read all the books on love and relationships but we do not have time to listen to the heart of our lover?” —MOLLY VASS
“We all suffer, at times, from the effort to study something instead of living it. Or from the effort to fix or advise rather than to listen and to hold. But as the theologian Paul Tillich puts it, “The first duty of love is to listen.” When I think of the times I have truly listened in my life—to the sea’s endless lapping, to the sighs of my grandmother when she thought no one was near, to the pains of others that I have caused—it is receiving these simple truths that has made me a better man. So often when we refuse to listen, we become obsessed with remaking the world in our own image, rather than opening the spirit within us to the spirit of what is. At the deepest level, ours is not to make ourselves heard but to be still enough to hear. As the Native American Elder Sa’k’ej Henderson says, “To truly listen is to risk being changed forever.”
“During your day, take five minutes and stop making, stop doing, stop thinking … and just listen….”
It was impossible not to feel the awareness of my own shame after reading that opening quote…because I am so guilty of doing just that – researching how to fix things when what is really necessary is simply to listen, and to really hear. To read between the lines and decipher what is really being said and what is most needed.
I do it all day long for other people’s children (and my own), but I’m an outstanding failure at it when it comes to my own husband.
So of course, after sitting with the recognition of this particular weakness all day, being vulnerable enough to admit it without chastising myself, I had to ask, “Why is that?”
I’m not sure I’ve really come to any rousing epiphanies. But I do think I came to the conclusion that it is safer to seek my answers outside or in books than it is to seek them from within or from inside of him. Because listening, and hearing now, necessarily mean that I have not been, either because I have been truly deaf to his pleas or because I have been protecting myself by shutting my ears to them. Regardless of the motivation, conscious or subconscious, the admission either leads to guilt and shame and/or it leads to acceptance of culpability, a request for forgiveness, and truly changed behavior on my part.
It annoys me that he repeats himself. But, um, he wouldn’t be repeating himself if he felt truly heard. He’s going to keep saying it until I hear it and he sees and feels evidence of that, or he’s going to get tired of speaking and stop, which is worse.
We both fail each other in certain ways. And yet, we also provide the most basic human needs: love and belonging.
Today, I can admit that the place I have failed my husband most is by not hearing. I listen just one enough to feel the catch of fear, defensiveness, or guilt, and then I shut off, letting my brain fill instead with the sounds of my own justifications. Why I can’t, why I won’t, why I shouldn’t. I read books, not only looking for answers and solutions, but for evidence to support my own claims.
It’s like living life from behind a camera rather than from within the scene. To be fully present and engaged actually takes less time and energy than it does to seek from the outside.
And with relationships, we can only find our answers from within. No author or therapist or counselor truly knows what a marriage is from it’s core…that secret place made of shared memory and experience. While they may be able to guide or push us to ask the right questions or use the right strategies, they do not have the answers. Only we have those.
And we can only find them by listening. Truly listening. And hearing.