on listening

When it happens, I can always feel it physically: an internal shifting, a sense of shutting down. At a cocktail party, when someone asks me about myself, then glances around the room as I begin to answer. When I’m having lunch with a friend who keeps checking Facebook at the table. During a phone conversation, when I finish a story and the pause on the other end of the line is a tad too long and the person’s voice sounds like they are returning from somewhere else far away.

In all of these moments, I know that I am speaking, but am not being heard. The other person is not listening to me at all. And I always feel myself shrink. I quickly summarize whatever story I was telling. I curtail my remarks. Any chance at opening up to this person and being vulnerable in this moment is gone.

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All of us can remember times when we have felt not listened to. And, to be fair, all of us have been that distracted person as well, experiencing the vertigo that comes when a conversation ends and you realize you have zero recollection of what was just said.

But also, I hope every one of us can remember a time when we felt wholly listened to. Because of this, we felt connected, cared for, understood. As Ed Cunningham said, “Friends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer.”

And not only friends — sometimes acquaintances, or even strangers, are the listeners we need the most. When my dear friend Céline died, I was fortunate to have many friends and family members who lovingly and generously listened to me. I particularly remember crying on the phone with my parents and brother the morning we learned the news, and also the way Greg held my hand and listened during the weekend of Céline’s funeral and celebration of life. Allyn unfortunately never got to meet Céline, but his smile when he listens to my stories about her makes it seem as if he knew her. The same is true for my friend Dana, who met me for lunch on the anniversary of her death. And I don’t know what I would do without my long conversations with Holly as we continue to navigate through grief together.

And also, when I think of listening, I think of an acquaintance I have named Cynthia who is a hospital chaplain and volunteers through my church’s grief group. When Céline passed away, Cynthia invited me to coffee. I remember driving to the coffeeshop, feeling numb, thinking that I didn’t have much to say. Yet when I sat down with Cynthia, and she asked, “How are you doing?” with so much concern in her voice, all of these words and emotions came spilling out of me. I was trying to “be strong” in front of all the people I loved in my life, who knew me and worried about me, to show them that I was doing okay. With Cynthia, I didn’t have to prove anything. In the wake of my life’s biggest loss, that experience of being deeply listened to by a near-stranger meant so much.

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In one of my favorite songs — “Quiet” by Jason Mraz — the lyrics of the chorus go like this:

I will hold your hand

And watch the world spin madly round

This life we’re in

Everything goes quiet

When it’s you I’m with

These words make me think of sanctuary. Often, in everyday life — and especially when it feels like the world is spinning madly around us — what we yearn for is simply someone to hold our hand and sit quietly beside us. Listening creates sanctuary for each other.

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Karl Menniger says, “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” Let us be brave enough to listen — to create, unfold, expand. To be there for each other. To offer grace and understanding. To listen, really listen, truly and deeply and gratefully. Because when show up in this way for each other, we are also showing up for ourselves. In strengthening these authentic relationships, we are strengthening the best part of ourselves. In learning to listen to others, we practice listening to those quiet, wise voices within us.

Questions of the day:

  • When was the last time you felt deeply listened to?
  • Who can you give a listening ear to this week?

merry christmas! mid-week meditation #16

Happy Christmas, everyone! I hope whatever you have in store for today, it is a celebration filled with joy and love!

In that spirit, here is one of my favorite quotes for this Christmas season:

grinch xmas quote

Sending so much happiness your way on this blessed day!

Question of the day:

  • What are you doing to celebrate Christmas?

be the sun, not the wind

In a recent issue of Glamour Magazine, there was an interview with Kiera Knightley, an actress I have always liked {but I like her even more now after reading this interview!} She seemed very down-to-earth, witty and intelligent. I especially loved this story she shares from her mother:

“Remember, you have to be the sun, not the wind.”

(The Glamour interviewer says, “Huh?”)

“You don’t know that story? Okay, the sun and the wind see a man walking down the street, and they have a competition to see which of them can get his coat off first. So the wind blows and blows, and the man just does his coat up tighter. Then the sun simply shines and shines and shines. My mother has sort of lived her life like that, really.”

I think this is so beautiful and true.

be sun not wind

Questions of the evening:

  • How can you be like the sun, rather than the wind?
  • Is there something in your life you are struggling with? What if you took this approach to it instead? What would that look like?

mid-week meditation #15

Hi there, friends! I’m sharing a beer and pizza with my grandma right now. Coming at you from a commercial break of the World Series {gooooo Giants!} with this week’s mid-week meditation.

My brother and I were exchanging emails yesterday and the topic of generosity and gratitude came up, and how sometimes the act of accepting a gift of generosity is even harder than it is to give generously. It is so easy for pride to get in the way, or feelings of insecurity or inadequacy. But actually, accepting an offered gift with love and sincere appreciation is in itself a generous gift.

This morning, I saw that Greg had tweeted something I wrote in our email conversation as a #quote, which gave me the idea that maybe it would be a meaningful thought to share on here.

So this week, I’m presenting the first mid-week meditation that isn’t a quote from someone else — these are my very own words!

generosity meditation

I hope these words fill you with peace and grace. Here’s to giving generously, and receiving generously, too!

Before I get back to the World Series game, I also wanted to share this amazing Sat Kriya meditation from the effervescent Heather Waxman. I’ve only done it once, but it felt so good that I’m already planning to make it a regular part of my routine. She has such a soothing energy and compassionate spirit.

Questions of the evening:

  • What is harder for you, giving or receiving?
  • What does it mean to you to receive with a generous spirit?
  • Are you watching the World Series? 🙂 Who are you rooting for?

mid-week meditation #14

Good morning, everyone! Hope your week is humming along nicely. I woke up this morning feeling a little sore, but still on a high, from last night’s yoga class! We had a substitute instructor who was alllll about the chair pose. I was definitely feeling the burn! But it also felt like an accomplishment to be able to hold the pose for so long. It made me realize that I really have come far in my yoga practice since I began practicing in earnest at the beginning of the year.

It’s been a cloudy, gray couple days here in the Bay Area, which I’ve actually been savoring because it finally feels like autumn! I love cozy autumn weather. It makes me so happy to curl up with a book under a blanket, or open up my laptop in the morning to write with a hot mug of tea while the wind shrieks outside.

That’s pretty much my schedule for today: write in the morning, teach in the afternoon, and have a bajillion cups of tea in between. 🙂 This evening, I’m planning to head to church for a class our ministers are co-teaching on Science & Spirituality. I’ve heard great things about it and am excited to check it out!

This week’s meditation is a quote that my brother sent me:

john gardner quote

 Question of the morning:

  • What do you have to give that you have never given before?

mid-week meditation #13

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to our new subscribers! {I’m especially loving Kiley’s blog, Food Friends, which I just subscribed to… I’m already eying her sweet potato & sausage skillet as a possible dinner recipe for tonight!}

Yesterday I spent the whole day with Allyn which was such a treat! We pretty much just worked side-by-side on our computers for most of the day, but it was so nice to have some company during the workday. Sometimes those ordinary “routine” days are the best, ya know? Plus, my sweetie is the best thing for my productivity because he inspires me so much! He is extremely diligent and driven, so I tend to stay seated at my computer, booty-in-chair, writing writing writing, for longer periods than I might otherwise if I was on my lonesome. {I am the queen of snack and tea breaks when I am writing on my own at home! Anyone else the same way?}

For dinner we made BBQ baked chicken + herbed wild rice + a tomato, corn, avocado salad that I threw together without a recipe. It turned out delicious!

corn avocado tomato salad

I know that photo is kinda bad, but trust me, it was a goodie! All I did was boil an ear of corn, cut the kernels off the cob, and mix it up with one diced tomato and half of an avocado. {A whole ‘cado would probably be even better, but we only had half.} Then add some salt and pepper, mix it all up, and you’ve got a great side dish. Quick, simple, healthy = three of my favorite things when it comes to cooking!

Today Allyn had to take his car into the shop for a check-up, and I had some errands to run and laundry to do, so we are back to working separately. I’m hoping to get a lot of random items that have been languishing on the old to-do list finally CHECKED OFF today. We shall see! I’ve got my workstation going on the dining room table. And a bowl of oatmeal for lunch! Sometimes you just gotta give the body what it wants, and mine wanted oatmeal. 🙂

workstation

This week’s meditation comes from one of my favorite writers, Louisa May Alcott. Whatever you are up to today, I hope these words come at a good time for you and your beautiful aspirations:

aspirations quote

 Question of the day:

  • What are your highest aspirations?

mid-week meditation #12

First off: happy October, everyone! It is beginning to officially feel like autumn.

September ended on a lovely note for me: we had a wonderful time last night celebrating Allyn’s birthday! His mom cooked a delicious meal of salmon, broccoli and green beans. Plus we had a beautiful red velvet cake for dessert! {Apparently Allyn’s mom and I were on the same wavelength with the red velvet desserts!}

als bday dinner

red velvet cake

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I hope Allyn had a really special birthday, because he is a very special person.

It’s been a busy morning around here. I’m trying to get a solid day of writing in before teaching two classes this afternoon. Taking a quick break right now to nosh on this salad — spinach, chard, cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, celery, sunflower seeds, grilled chicken, balsamic vinaigrette — yummy, healthy and fueling!

salad

This week’s meditation is one of my favorites ever. Such important words to take in and think about. Thanks to my brother Greg for passing along this quote to me:

work lives on quote

 Questions of the morning:

  • What work do you do that focuses on others?
  • What do you want your legacy to be?

mid-week meditation #11

Happy Wednesday, everyone! Oh man, I went to yoga last night for the first time in for.ev.er and I am sore today! It’s the good kind of sore, though. I’m already looking forward to class tomorrow! It’s nice to be getting back into my regular routine after such a busy, travel-filled summer.

When I got home from yoga last night, there was this gorgeous cake sitting on the kitchen counter. Apparently one of our neighbors saw my grandma walking with her walker and learned about her hip operation. So she baked this homemade lemon cake as a get-well gift. Such a thoughtful gesture! It warmed my heart {and my belly — delicious!} Next time I see her, I’m going to ask for the recipe so I can share it with all of you.

lemon bundt cake

Last night, my fave contestant Tavis Smiley was voted off Dancing With The Stars. 😦 But I’m happy to be heading into San Francisco today to hear Tavis give a talk about his new book about MLK, Death of a King, at The Commonwealth Club.

Death of a King

Then I’m off to teach my first class of the semester for Communication Academy — I’m excited to meet my students and get started! Tonight I’m heading over to my aunt Annie’s house to watch the season premiere of Nashville with her and Arianna… the other show I watch on a regular basis in addition to The Good Wife. Any other Nashville fans?

Before I go, here’s a September-inspired meditation to add some calm to your week:

September quote

Have a beautiful day!

mid-week meditation #10

Hi there, everyone! How is your day going? It’s been H-O-T here in Ventura this week — temps are up in the 80s, which feels super hot here because we don’t have air conditioning! Don’t usually need it with the cool ocean breeze and fog. I’ve been working in the dining room all day, which is the one room in our house that seems to get a bit of a breeze. Dad and I went out for lunch today — partly for a fun meal out, partly for some air conditioning! 🙂 We went to one of my favorite restaurants, a Japanese place called Kabuki. I got two sushi rolls and chowed down on the complimentary edamame. Yum!

sushi

I’m savoring these final days at home with my parents before heading back up to my life in the Bay. The rest of the afternoon was spent working on my novel, visiting my Gramps, and baking a loaf of pumpkin bread to deliver as a thank-you to the local newspaper for running a guest column I wrote a couple weeks ago.

Now Dad’s having a Guinness (he fell in love with Guinness while he and Mom were in Ireland) and I’m trying out a cider I spotted in Trader Joe’s… has anyone else tried pineapple cider?! I’ve never seen it before, so I couldn’t resist. It is a bit of a strange combination — apple-y plus tropical-y — don’t know if I’d get it again, but fun to try something new!

pineapple cider

Before I close up my computer and start prepping dinner, here’s a meditation for you:

small daily choices

Question of the evening:

  • What are small daily choices that make you feel renewed?

mid-week meditation #9

Hi there, friends! Can you believe it’s Thursday already? This week is flying by!

Here’s a meditation that seemed applicable in these late summer days, as we transition into a new season of back-to-school and new beginnings. It’s a quote from one of my favorite books of all time, The Great Gatsby.

summer quote

Questions of the morning:

  • What is your favorite memory of the summer?
  • How do you feel renewed as the seasons change?