Have you ever spent time gazing deeply into someone’s eyes while they were talking with you? Really paying attention to every word, doing your best to understand?
Rather than interrupt with question or let your mind wander off into its stories (the way minds do), you truly tried to feel the emotion behind their words?
If you have, then you might know what I mean about the power of deep listening to heal many ills of the world. As humans, we deeply yearn to be seen and understood by other sentient beings. It is deeply wired into our survival DNA as a species.
When we feel seen and deeply appreciated by another human being, we start to mirror back that feeling toward the world. We connect more deeply with others around us, and we start to heal the wounds we all carry, personally and collectively.
I have to admit that listening deeply is something I have not practiced as consistently as I would like with loved ones. Listening without judgment and with true curiosity is an art and a practice. It requires awareness of your own mind, and the ability to stay present and return even when you feel distracted.
All I know is that when I listen deeply to people, whether my family or my coworkers or colleagues, I am transformed as well. When I have made that connection with intention to deeply understand not just the words but the emotion behind them, all of my relationships improve.
In an era where it is too easy to be distracted, try deeply listening to someone today. Ignore the pings and dings from your phone. Set aside the opinions and judgments. Just watch how this practice brings greater joy and ease to your life and your work.
I have recently taken on some new challenges, started learning some new things.
Dance! – I made a pledge to myself back in January, took a foundations class, and then I also followed on with another Zumba class. I will do more of this, especially now that my schedule will be more flexible for the next couple of months.
Massage – My massage therapist gave me a 90-minute lesson on how to give a massage to my hubby. I’ve been wanting to learn, and to have a non-sexual way to connect through physical touch. I wanted to learn how to properly do this without giving myself carpal tunnel or hurting my back over the massage table.
Motorcycling – I took an intro class to ‘Cycling and Scootering. I did a lot better than I thought for only a 4-hour class. I am now more motivated to study for my permit and take the longer “Basic Rider Course” sometime in August or September.
What do these three activities have in common? All of the teachers spoke of the practices as building up “muscle memory” over time in order to make certain parts automatic. While learning new skills, we often have to think and focus intensely. This is all new and our minds and bodies need to make the connections necessary to master the skills. Then they take practice, repetition and time in order to build up the muscle memory that allows for less conscious effort, a more fluid and easy feel.
I started considering the muscle memory that drives many of our daily habits. Have you ever gone out to do an errand and ended up driving somewhere automatically even though you did not consciously want to go there? Your mind was somewhere else, but your body knew where you usually go (work, the grocery store, etc).
I thought about the muscle memory of playing the flute (started in middle school) or the saxophone (started in high school). My teacher told me that it was a good thing I started on the flute and then moved to saxophone because the movements are more precise and delicate. Apparently it is more difficult to go the other way. Hours and hours of practice on the flute helped me “convert” the muscle memory of the similar fingerings on the saxophone.
When we embark on a new chapter in our lives, there is no muscle memory yet for how to do our daily work. We need to suspend judgement and be kind to ourselves while we are learning. All of our efforts are part of the feedback loop of mastery, even if they fail, even if we shift too quickly and cut the engine while not allowing enough throttle to create momentum.
There are ways to visualize and help to create muscle memory even more quickly. One motorcycle instructor told us that even practicing our hand and foot motions in the evening for 10 minutes while sitting in a chair watching t.v. could help us master the skill more quickly. The memory is formed not just in our muscles, but with the help of our brain, and this is what world-class athletes do before their routines.
As I visualize my next chapter, I associate feelings of ease and excitement. I see myself learning new things, and having my back, giving myself encouragement if I make mistakes. I build up these muscle memories and know that in time, the practice pays off, and the learning accumulates. Confidence increases, and satisfaction as well.
What kinds of muscle memory do you access regularly?
I have been thinking a lot about the exercises Martha Beck and Liz Gilbert asked of us on Saturday during our Celebrate Your Life Retreat this weekend.
I opted to skip the Sunday Q&A discussion after being peopled-out by the 611 women (and 4 men) attending the conference and the deep work we did as part of the workshops. We shared with each other some very personal things, those of us willing to be a little vulnerable.
What Liz and Martha asked of us was nothing less than the transformation of human consciousness. I wholeheartedly agree with their assessment. We cannot keep doing things the way they have always been done. It is killing our planet.
All this constant striving, ego, machismo and relentless activity are creating an unsustainable habitat for future generations. But before we run off trying to heal the planet, we need to heal ourselves. We need to realize that we are whole and that we are loved.
We need to get enough rest, enough healthy food and get enough PLAY in each our days. I think particularly for women we do not let ourselves have this time. We are conditioned and “domesticated” to be busy, to be caring for everyone, sometimes at a cost to ourselves.
But when we do not allow for play, for natural curiosity, for that quality we had when we were younger, that fascination and wonder with the world, we all lose. For it is when we play, when we step away from the obligations and the chores and the everyday life that we realize our creative gifts. We re-energize our spirits.
So after a wonderful time Friday evening and all-day Saturday, I opted to “play” with my husband instead of attending the final 2 hour session. Part of me said: “hey, you signed up for this, and you want to get your money’s worth!”
But the bigger part of me, that divine intelligence that comes from my heart, wanted to enjoy the day with my husband. I wanted to process what I had learned, and integrate my learning into the bigger story of my life. I wanted to enjoy some togetherness and shared adventure that are so good for our relationships.
So we went on a motorcycle journey to Sedona from Scottsdale. It was a long trip, along the back roads in the mountains, maybe 160-165 miles each way. For me ‘cycling more than 300 miles in a day, especially without “conditioning” for the season, is challenging! I’m not part of the “iron butt” crowd!
I followed my “wilder” and less domesticated instinct and the wisdom of my heart and have no regrets. I have studied Liz’ and Martha’s work and books for years. While some of the Q&A may have been informative, my soul was calling out for play, not for another morning in a ballroom away from the sunshine.
I am grateful to have such experiences and to have the luxury of the resources to plan such a vacation as this during what feels like a big transition in my life. I realize it reflects a lot of privilege to be able to nurture this side of myself, and I do not take it for granted.
But I believe that personal growth is an imperative, not a luxury. If we do not grow, we wither. If we do not honor the yearnings within us, our soul begins to die, even if our bodies still live. Many of us have learned this behaviors as a part of our culture, which is inherently conservative.
What got us here will not get us into the future unscathed. Caring and nurturing are done in the wild as well as in domestic settings. Women are good at it, so let us practice giving it to ourselves. Not only our own lives, but the lives of all those around us will benefit.
We return home today. My consciousness is raised, and the wild adventure has begun.