Listening and Being Heard
So much of my time here at the yoga retreat has been about learning to listen. Surprisingly, that mostly involves stopping the endless stream of chatter coming from my mind and getting deeper. Deeper to where I can listen to what my body is saying from my sore shoulders to my aching heart. Every feeling is supposed to be accepted and listened to until it becomes time to move on.
Listening to Yourself
Some days I really suck at this. My mind goes on and on and on. It’s like that person at a party who doesn’t realize everyone around the table was bored with their story ten minutes ago and now is finding excuses to move to a more interesting group. My mind just prattles on. It drowns out some more important characters like my heart, my body and those around me.
I have, however, been learning a lot about who I am and what I’m afraid of by listening to this constant chatter for a change. Normally, I think I just accept it as background noise, but now that I’m listening to it, I discover shocking things about myself.
For instance, I was painfully shy during my childhood. It turns out, I still am. I’m just better at covering it up. I remember being little and my parents encouraging me to play with other kids. I resisted until I started crying because I was afraid the other kids would “poke my eyes out”. Even though I’m not afraid the friendly people around me are going to poke my eyes out, the same resistance is still there.
I can make conversation when necessary, but honestly, I hate small talk and sometimes it’s just easier to avoid all together because being alone is comfortable. But now I notice myself tensing up when people come up to talk to me. And because now I know it, I can work on relaxing.
Either that or I can start poking their eyes out.
When I am finally able to quiet it down, I find all the feelings I have been pushing away – and there is a lot. The instructors frequently mention that unexpressed emotions get stored in the hips and so much of my days are spent in yoga which has a lot of hip opening exercises, or classes in which we sit Indian style for hours, again, opening the hips. In my physical body, my hips hurt, my knees hurt and my shoulders hurt. In my emotional body, I feel a thousand things and a lot of them hurt.
My body just wants to be heard.
We have one very beautiful and charming yoga teacher who I imagine must have been involved in torture in a former life. Her classes are incredibly hard. They are difficult in a way that makes me think all my previous yoga classes must have been at the senior citizen level and this level is or Olympians. I arrive one morning, feeling like everyone is getting into my personal space and it’s too early for socialization. We start the class, which is punishing and painful. It goes on and on and on… about an hour in I am starting to get really angry. I hurt, I’m hungry and I’m tired. We aren’t even getting close to a cool down. When is this going to end? Why is the dominatrix at the front insisting we hold plank for this long? This isn’t humane. This isn’t possible. This is cruel.
Then I’m angry for being angry. I better push that back down. I don’t want anyone to know it. Nice girls don’t get angry. Nice girls are always happy and love small talk. A nice girl would never grumpy in the morning. Then we are quiet and I can’t quiet how angry I am at so many things. My brain sounds like it has Tourette’s Syndrome.
I guess I’m not a nice girl after all. I’m an angry girl, quite possibly the least lady-like girl here. It feels just like back in high school when I was into bad punk music. But today my brain is playing Seether and I feel like I should be channeling Maria from The Sound of Music. However, that’s not the point, the point is to listen to the anger and know it’s there. Not to judge it.
I try to let it be. It’s okay to be angry. It’s alight to feel it. Who the hell is this nice girl anyway? She sounds like a dish of skim milk or a door mat, or worse, both. But here I go again, judging it. It’s just anger, we all feel it. Just let it be. It doesn’t dictate what type of person I am.
So I try to feel it. I go to the place beyond my prattling mind and breath and keep going. Slowly the anger subsides as we move to a new pose and keep going for another hour.
The anger just wants to be heard.
Listening to Others
In one particularly illuminating class, we practice what is called ‘Compassionate Listening’. It’s so simple it seems stupid at first. The point is to just listen to another person talk about whatever they want. The job of the talker is to go deep down and see what inside them wants to be expressed. The listener isn’t allowed to talk or nod. The listener is just supposed to make eye contact and listen. I find the listening a little awkward at first but fairly easy.
When it’s my turn to talk, however, it’s such a relief to get the undivided attention of someone for a change. Suddenly I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for someone to just listen for five minutes without being distracted. Someone who listens with their heart and not their mind. I relax knowing the listener is not going to interject with their opinions of my thoughts and I am overwhelming thankful not be interrupted. I wish we could do this all day.
It feels so incredibly good. It’s like medicine for the soul.
I feel so much relief I start to cry. When the exercise ends, I look around class and see that almost everyone is crying. This one simple act of listening seems to have gotten to people in a much deeper way than almost anything else we’ve done so far.
We just want to be heard.
Listening into Stillness
The day ends with the sun setting as we all sit Indian style looking toward the ocean and meditating. I keep working to quiet my mind. That lady who always prattles on is still at the party but my focus is not on her. I listen, deeper and deeper and deeper until my mind is quiet and the ocean and the birds take the spotlight, until for just a moment, I forget the outside world and really am truly listening internally.
In that moment, everything is still.
The soul just wants to be heard.