Dan & I were invited by a friend to attend a new group on intentional, deep listening this week. I was excited about this group because I thought it would be similar to the experience I had during unprogrammed Quaker worship. In that venue, there is a sitting in silence until the spirit moves someone to speak. Often, we would spend the entire hour in silence and, even if someone was moved to speak, it was usually only a small portion of the shared period. I knew this would be more sharing and listening but there would be silent pauses as well and I’m always excited about experiencing something new.
You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.
The night of the event, as Mom and I were preparing dinner, she asked what time we needed to leave and I said that we would need to leave by 6:40. I was sure Dan was there, but, I would find later, he did not hear this exchange. We ate dinner and were able to get the cleanup done before 6:30. Dan headed downstairs and I followed. At 6:37 I mentioned to him that it was about time to go. At 6:41 I was starting to get very anxious, he was still staring intently into the computer. At 6:43, I headed towards the door and again said, “It’s time to go.” Dan said, “Go on out and start the car and I’ll be out in a minute.” As I left the house I said, “You know it starts at 6:50, not 7 o’clock.” (I was definitely exasperated.)
I got the car started and anxiously awaited Dan’s arrival. As he got in the car, he was asking “Why 6:50?” I said I wasn’t sure but he seemed to be really bothered by this as he kept going on about “normal start times” and such. I was frustrated not understanding why it was a big deal so answered back sharply, “I don’t know. Maybe she’s worried about people showing up on time. Maybe she wants to give people a chance to settle in before we start. I DON’T KNOW!” (I’m always the one to escalate the volume.) We argued about this back and forth for a minute or two building in our frustration and anger until we had built a giant snowball and started it down the hill, yelling at each other all the way. At one point I said. “Do you not want to go?!?” He didn’t say he didn’t want to go but we kept arguing. (Actually, I asked him this twice and would find out later he started to wonder if I didn’t want him to go.) At another point I said, “Great! This is exactly how I wanted to go into this meeting.” This of course only pumped up the bickering. We continue arguing up to the point when we arrived at the building… at exactly 6:50.
The walk up to the building included me letting our host know we’d been fighting all the way there so we probably really need this group! She gave me a hug and warmly welcomed Dan as I had another sharp comment about how I was giving Dan such a hard time. (Amazing how I realize when I’m not functioning well but seem helpless to stop doing it and change gear to something more successful.)
Inside, we started meeting new people and trying to break free from the argument but feeling uncomfortable about where we left it. We chatted briefly as we walked to the meeting room and I know we both felt very ill at ease. You see, Dan and I rarely ever fight or argue. The last time we fought was at the end of June. It was before Tom came up to visit for 4th of July and it was one of the longer fights we had as we continued to not talk it out for a week. So we only yell like this a couple times a year. It was disturbing.
The group started a bit after 7 with the final arrivals. There were readings on listening, sharing and then fellowship. It was a time filled with peace and good feelings but also questioning and intensity of attention as I listened to others and shared my own thoughts about listening. I realized a couple things during the meditation portion of the meeting where we took time to write and think on the topic of listening following the readings.
- First, I thought about how when I am hurt, stressed or angry, it becomes impossible to communicate, especially if the one with whom I am sharing is also having any of these feelings.
- And second, while talking, I cannot hear new information or get inputs that could be vital to my understanding. Thus, I could see how the snowball was created and then pushed down the hill, getting bigger and bigger all the way to the meeting.
I thought through the argument a bit and tried to understand the source of my anger. And I listened to what was shared during the meeting and remembered that listening is care. It is an act of love, as Storycorp tells us on NPR. Listening to another is a gift given and, in the same moment, received. I knew afterward I would ask Dan two questions:
- Did it bother you that I could be so rageful in the car with you & then so smiley and friendly with the others? [It bugs me how I can do this. I get that it’s a change in focus and I normally am super smiley and friendly, but it feels so superficial and false when it occurs in the direct aftermath of conflict with someone I love.]
- Why didn’t you leave with me when I let you know it was time to go?
Before I could even ask question #2, Dan admitted it was rude to not leave when I originally asked. When I asked why he didn’t, he explained that he was just trying to get through 3 more emails to clear his account. He only gets a few times during the work week when he can check e-mails and he thought he had 5 more minutes. Leaving at 6:40 was not in his field of expectation.
We talked the whole way home, breaking down all the points where we could now see the communication had failed.
I had indicated to Dan that I thought I told him of the meeting time being 6:50 and, in frustration, Dan had said, “I must not have been listening” to which I retorted, “well maybe you’ll learn something tonight!” Yes, shitty. But in part, hopeful that he would! (Of course, that pointing finger has three pointing back to me.) I admitted that it was clear that this would have come across to him as a slam, as did much of my push back. I was frustrated and angry that he hadn’t simply agreed to go when my expectation said it was time to leave.
I have always felt that one of the hardest things in life is unmet expectations. Both of us had our expectations dashed in the moments prior to leaving for the meeting. And it was obvious we lacked an ability in the moments following to hear each other.
It was timely that we had this listening event and beautiful that we had the love and patience to listen to one another after the argument in order to find understanding. It was a gift we gave each other. And we continue to work on this practice.
Listening is a Dance, and the other person Leads.
(Quotes today are from M. Scott Peck and Bfrienders Ministries, respectively.)
For those of you who read to keep up on the Harn progress, we had a super successful weekend due in big part to help from Paul Trumm. He may tell you he did nothing… as I hear he and Dan commiserated about feeling like they weren’t really doing anything. But he was a huge help! With both my hands in muddy gloves, having someone to move all the supplies, constantly spray water and paint fresh clay slip made for huge progress on our Rocket Mass Heater build. Here’s the latest video. https://youtu.be/8fJ3isGL-K4