Talking and Listening and the Church of Love
I keep forgetting. Time passes, and then I see my dad and I start to tell him something, and after a short bit he interrupts to point out a line of children walking by the coffee shop or to say he should have put more sugar in his coffee. Instantly I go back to being a little kid and holding something I think is wonderful out to him and realizing I showed my treasure to the wrong person. My heart ends up feeling like I am the wrong person, and my treasure turns to junk.
I’m not much different from my dad. I don’t do this all the time, but enough to do damage. I allow people a certain amount of time to talk until I can’t take it anymore. The other person has suddenly talked too much and I have to stop him or her because the glass of me is overrunning with their sense of importance. By shutting them down I am stopping my own disappearance.
Having someone shut you down when you are sharing something you feel is important is sort of like being raised in a warm, safe environment and then being given away when the light turns on. Or crossing the road and getting blindsided by a truck.
This kind of “tell me everything oh wait could you please shut up” behavior on my part is like opening the door and welcoming someone with a big smile and then slamming the door before they are all the way inside my house. It’s so rude. So painful. Not a good relationship builder. How can I value my own voice when I don’t value the voices of others? And how can I value the voices of others if I don’t value my own?
What I want to tell you is that it costs me something to talk to you in a way that is meaningful to me. There is risk involved. I can show myself and you can walk away.
Sometimes in reaction to all this fear of talking I shoot off at the mouth, careening like a drunken driver from subject to subject, oblivious to who gets run over. Or I act like I’m interviewing the person to whom I’m talking, spinning out question after question so I don’t have to risk talking at all. Oversharing can feel like binging on food to a person who is a word anorexic. There’s a temporary high and then terrible shame.
When I wrote You Don’t Look Adopted I threw caution to the wind. Writing a memoir was like oversharing on crack. It was like being drunk times a million. I honestly thought writing that book would kill me. That what I was doing was against all the rules. Aside from time with my daughter, those were the best three months of my life.
I was letting myself be me.
Writing the book made me stronger, but it didn’t cure me. A few months after it was published, I wrote my first blog post and waited for lightening to strike or for my heart to stop beating when I made it public. It didn’t make sense to my brain that I could be completely honest and write (which feels like talking with my hands) until I decided I was finished, not when someone interrupted me or when I threw in the towel and shut up because I felt misunderstood.
It’s easier for me to be open when I write than when I speak because I don’t have the distraction of an audience with eyes and mouths. I had writer’s block for most of my adult life because I had a critical audience in my head that got me to shut up early on the page, but I learned how to listen to myself more than to them, and so now writing flows in a way it didn’t just a few years ago.
The problem with speaking with people face-to-face is that I’m hyper tuned into signs of boredom or dismissal, and I’m quick to decide I should start asking questions and get them to speak instead. This is a relationship deal breaker because as soon as the conversation isn’t shared, part of me leaves the room, and hanging out with just a part of anyone is a sad affair.
In order to be real with my dad, I need to tell him I am hesitant to talk because I fear seeing he isn’t really interested. I’ll probably cry. It hurts to say I need you to see me. I need you to love me when there isn’t a guarantee the other person wants to engage or has the ability to do so. But what I have come to learn is that it’s not so much the reaction I get that’s important—it’s that I show myself the respect I crave. If I say I need something, I have a better chance of getting it from someone.
I treasure the moments when people open up to me, and I am getting better at also sharing myself so I don’t end up feeling used and tired from solely listening. If it costs me something to share, chances are good it also costs the other person something to share, and I need to recognize the holy moment of communion and treat it with due respect.
Granted, there are people who habitually don’t speak from a mindful, respectful place. There are people who could talk at another body for hours and never ask a single question. Those people are not good for someone like me, and so I have become especially selective with whom I spend my time.
Just because I want to work on talking and listening doesn’t mean I have no boundaries and limits. My body reacts to what I let come into my ears. Hate weakens me. Limiting beliefs weaken me. I don’t eat garbage for a reason: I respect my body and have access to good food. I am stronger when I listen to love. When I listen to kindness. To intelligence. To funny.
Talking and listening are different ways of entering the church of love. When one does not feel heard, the soul and spine atrophy. I believe one way out is to keep speaking into the darkness. Keats said truth is beauty, and the universe loves both. If you speak your truth, you will find your people and they will listen. They will recognize themselves in you, and you will recognize the music of the world when you stop to listen.