When I stay in the lived experience of the present moment, all is well. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
I added the words “lived experience” there because these big brains of ours pull us off into judgments and stories about this moment even while we’re there. It’s what brains do. Even five minutes of meditation can teach us that. As I am trying to place my attention on the breath, my mind goes off into thinking and planning, remembering and anticipating. That’s with no input. Once I am the middle of a conversation and my mind has new ideas coming at it, then it has a lot to say about what’s going on. Example: my daughter arrives to work her PCA shift with me.
Me: how are you?
My daughter: tired.
My mind: oh, maybe I should let her sleep instead of asking her to work. It’s too bad that she has to work so much. If I were a better parent, we would’ve saved more for her college and she wouldn’t have to be working so hard. She’s probably staying up too late. If she took better care of herself, then she wouldn’t be tired. If I were a better parent, I would have taught her better self-care. Oh, I wish I had done that when she was a child. There’s no point in trying now. Kids don’t listen to anything you say when they are 19.
Me: that’s too bad.
All that brain activity occurs in a split second. Even though I am with my daughter, I am not really with her. Instead, I am lost in thought – and not in a good way.
Can I truly be here for her (and for myself)?
I think the anchors to this moment are in our senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch.
Two things just happened: I was thinking about the Somali women in my ESL classroom who hold hands for a minute as they greet each other. They don’t shake hands. They hold hands for a moment. As I was having that thought, I accidentally hit a button on my phone. Siri began listening. Surrounded by assistive technology, I note that I have to say a name to get their attention before I say a command. That puts them into listening mode.
I want to put myself into listening mode when I am with another. Sometimes I can do that with a touch. Sometimes it’s not appropriate to touch the other person. My daughter gave me a friendship bracelet and I wear it constantly. Maybe when I can’t touch the other, I can touch that bracelet. That uses the sense of touch and also sight, as I look at the bracelet.
Greeting the person by using their name might also be a way of putting myself in listening mode. That activates my hearing sense.
No matter what, I need to remember my intention.
Experimenting on the phone today, I discovered that I will need to return to the intention again and again in a conversation. I get excited and want to tell the other what I am thinking and feeling. Sometimes I’m so excited I interrupt them. (I would like not to do that.) It reminds me of meditation practice: in the same way as I return my attention to my breath, I need to return my intention to listening.
For the month of April, I am hereby setting the intention to focus on (and hopefully get better at) being a compassionate listening presence.