March 9, 2012

What’s That? I Didn’t Hear You!

Just Because We’re Listening Doesn’t Mean We’re Hearing.

“If you want to be truly understood, you need to say everything three times, in three different ways. Once for each ear … and once for the heart.”
Paula Underwood Spencer

Over the years, my husband and I have discovered that we have very different ears. Whether we’re rehashing a dinner party conversation or discussing information from a doctor’s appointment, we often discover that we’ve heard completely different things. Granted, sometimes this is just a gender thing. (Honestly, are men and women from different planets?) But, alarmingly often, we have listened to the same words and heard an entirely different message.

I’ll never forget getting into the car after a doctor’s appointment verging on tears, devastated by the news we’d received. My husband hopped into the driver’s seat and heaved a relieved sigh. With a big smile, he looked at me and said, “Great news, right?” “What?” I replied, in teary shock. We had heard such different things that day that we went back into the office and asked to meet with the doctor again. I’m sure she thought we were crazy, but I was very glad that she was willing to say everything twice that day. I was also very glad that we’d had two sets of ears in the room, because together we’d heard a lot more than either of us would have heard on our own.

Sometimes, it’s perspective that colors our understandings. Sometimes, it’s our emotional state. Sometimes (a lot of times), it’s timing that affects our ability to hear. Perhaps one of us got distracted by the Phillies on TV in another room. Or maybe he had a coughing fit in the middle of the conversation. Or maybe I had to put the dog out just as things were getting good. Or the phone rang. Or, or, or … Life has a nasty habit of getting in the way of our listening.

Sometimes, it’s timing of an entirely different sort. Sometimes, we’re just not ready to hear what is being said.

This one has been easier for me to grapple with on my yoga mat where things aren’t quite as pressing as real world stuff. In fact, my yoga teacher loves to laugh at me when I “discover” something she’s been telling me for years. It’s happened so many times that she doesn’t even have to say anything anymore. Her smile sweetly says, “I’m so happy you finally figured that out. If I’ve said that once, I’ve said it a hundred times!” Clearly, even when I’m listening, I’m not always ready to hear.

This is the nature of the practice. There are so many levels to move through and nuances to explore in each and every yoga posture that there is no way to ever learn it all. Ten years later, when I’m able to do lots of complicated and challenging postures, I continue to learn in the basic stretches I did in my very first class. The same instructions that helped me find my way into downward facing dog a decade ago are still informing me today. My body is different. My experience level is different. Therefore, what I hear is different than what I heard years ago. Thank goodness yoga teachers are perfectly happy to repeat themselves!

The fact that I’m still learning in the very first yoga posture I ever did, illustrates how much of what my teacher has been telling me through the years  I had missed. Thank goodness yoga is all about trying again, all about practice, all about repetition! By listening over and over again, I have been able to hear more. It’s also helpful to hear from classmates what they’ve heard. Like my husband and I in that doctor’s office, very often, my classmates and I pick up different things. Together, we are able to learn a lot more than any of us would on our own.

Practicing yoga has given me a certain comfort with the fact that no matter how closely I’m listening, it’s a pretty sure thing that I’ve missed something. I’m more willing to stay tuned in. I’m more willing to keep exploring. I’m more willing to seek clarification. Teaching yoga has made me comfortable expressing the same ideas over and over again in many different ways. After all, it follows that this will be as helpful to my students as my own teacher’s innovative repetition is for me.

All of these skills carry off my mat and into my life. As a parent, I often find myself hanging on every word as other parents speak about life with older kids. I know from experience on my yoga mat that I can’t hear these stories too often. Each time I do, I pick up something else to file away. Eventually, I’m sure I’ll “discover” a few great ideas that I’ve heard (but not heard) a hundred times. I’m lucky to have a classmate in these lessons. Because we rarely hear the same thing, when we share what we’ve absorbed, my husband and I learn a whole lot more than we could on our own.

That said, it’s the skill of effectively repeating ourselves that serves our family best. Between the two of us, repetition helps us better convey how we’re really feeling and what we’re really thinking. But, it is even more important for the kids. After all, they are growing and changing more dramatically than I ever will on my mat. And as they do, the more they are able to hear of what we say.

Life lessons have endless layers and nuances that make yoga postures look one-dimensional. What starts out as a simple playground instruction, “We don’t hit,” quickly morphs into “Use kind words,” and on into “Be a kind person.” Thankfully, life, like yoga, repeats itself. We have many chances to try again, to practice, to get it better if not right.

And that really does bear repeating,

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