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“The Silent Treatment”: Steady Learning to Listen and to Speak Quality Words

“The Silent Treatment”: Steady Learning to Listen and to Speak Quality Words

 Photo: Erika Layne

Photo: Erika Layne

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“When you offer yourself grounded, open-hearted silence (not passive-aggressive or fearful avoidance), you also extend to yourself an opportunity to hear what is there, waiting to be heard, waiting to aid you and simultaneously aid all in progression and healing—deep inner wisdom, guidance to next steps, observations made of you by another or others or vice versa, universals truths, clarity about a certain journey-place.”

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Last weekend, after reaching an especially trying journey-place with one of my children, being swallowed up in backed dirty dishes and laundry and an exhausting days-long bout of trigger cycling (managing PTSD) culminated by a huge fight with my partner, I decided to stop speaking—completely, for an indefinite period of time. The idea came to me as I was driving back home at 4am. I’d left to find different air. I was desperate to feel it, to breathe it in, to find clarity, comfort and anchoring in it. Sometimes, you just need to take a beat or two, ...or three, no?  ...And walk, run, swim (or drive) away to gather up and be with yourself. 

I thought I’d stop speaking, mostly because I felt tired—incredibly tired. Like, sensory overload and exhaustion on many levels. My words had all but completely lost their grounding in that hour before angrily snatching up my car keys. I’d left awareness of my inner post, watching over myself, and had come almost entirely off my square. After leaving and barely mindfully breathing through a bit, releasing the tightening and the heat in my body from adrenaline and the intense emotions (energies), I finally found calm again. I noticed a deepening of easeful settledness in my body and spirit along the return drive home as I considered and then decided to remain open in relating but extremely quiet for some time—to rest, to recalibrate, and mostly, to listen. 

My throat chakra, in general, is especially unblocked. I’m a teacher, a coach, a counselor, a singer, a speaker, a whaler, a moaner, a word- and sound-smith. I pray, I cry loudly, I speak in tongues. I have little to no trouble communicating my thoughts and feelings. Even insofar as I believe and have been told I am a pretty good listener, in reflecting on all of my “clear throated-ness,” I noticed that I might actually be due for some balancing out: some vocal stillness, some radical quiet. And how better to carry out this exercise than on a (seemingly) random day, when I was otherwise due to interact with humans besides myself—a Sunday, while with family and close friends? It’s fairly easy to be quiet when you’re alone. Resisting what feels like the need to speak while in the face of stimuli like your spouse, your children, your new puppy(!) or your best friend calling you with news via FaceTime is where the real work happens. 

Have you ever noticed how keenly people without sight tend to sense the world, vibrations and soul? Or how attentive a deaf individual is to a speaker’s lips and gestures when collecting information? A person having one dis-ability often in turn amplifies one or more other abilities in that same said person. Instead of being solely “disabled” then, they can more accurately be described as being “differently abled.”  

I fully acknowledge the privilege of decision in my case. I chose to temporarily disable my own ability to speak. In my exercise, doing so amplified other communicative abilities and offered opportunities (some of them unintended) for me to:

  1. sharpen my observation of others;
  2. sharpen my observation of myself;
  3. become more aware of my place in others’ worlds and how my presence (or symbolic absence) may or may not impact their lives;
  4. sharpen my active and attentive listening skills;
  5. bring awareness to what I might be communicating with my facial expressions, posture and gestures;
  6. exercise brevity—if I absolutely had to speak (for instance, while working with strangers on a project using power tools and later in a birthday party setting), I had to pick the words that would quickly do the most work; 
  7. let others tell their stories too;
  8. be reminded of what it feels like to not be invited into the conversation. 

It was challenging and it also felt refreshingly relieving to refrain from speaking while moving through one of my full-of-people, places and things days. I think it will become a regular practice.

(Because the Universe never ceases to amaze me), I cannot leave out my belief that this little exercise came through simultaneous to the unfolding of and exactly 7 days leading up to an especially big and telling-of-my-progress “listening opportunity” coming into my path. That realization didn’t even occur to me until I’d come to the other side of the fully present listening work in the “especially big” proving ground scenario. I was reminded that “all things—even the worst of things—[can] work together for good.” 

 (unknown author)

(unknown author)

All of this reminded me of a season a couple of years ago, when listening was excruciatingly painful. I heard a being  describing it recently as “keeping your heart open while it is breaking.” ...How does that sit with you? “Keeping your heart open while it’s breaking.” For a long while, I could only do it for moments at a time, then days, then weeks and back and forth in that way, in cycles: standing away from my own pain long enough to hear the pain of another’s. I’d literally sit with my hands in my lap and my palms turned toward the sky, whispering if speaking at all during these times, slowing way down, thoughtfully choosing the words that would form my questions and responses—the ones that would not cause essentially unnecessary additional harm—holding the space for another’s story to exist alongside mine.

In my life it has taken and will undoubtedly continue to take time to mature in this practice, but I have learned that when we truly look with “broader than us” sight—not to erase or invalidate our own experiences and need for care and healing, but to simply take in more context—what we almost always end up at (when we truly surrender to our highest and most balanced selves) is compassion. This is a response that is rooted in a deep, clear, vibrant and alive understanding of the truth that hurt and hurting people—made oblivious and blinded by their own pain—hurt people. Responding with compassion doesn’t necessarily mean you turn over on your back and show your belly to folks who’ve done you harm. Boundaries are still good and needful things. It does mean that you can transcend and be enabled to better move along or transmute (change) energies like resentment, bitterness, anger, hate and fear from their stuck and radiating place inside yourself—inwardly releasing misery, for YOU. Consequently, all who are connected to you are impacted too.

When you offer yourself grounded, open-hearted silence (not passive-aggressive or fearful avoidance), you also extend to yourself an opportunity to hear what is there, waiting to be heard, waiting to aid you and simultaneously aid all in progression and healing—deep inner wisdom, guidance to next steps, observations made of you by another or others or vice versa, universals truths, clarity about a certain journey-place. 

What do you notice right now?  

 

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