The Power to Pause

listentounderstandIt’s not easy to drop your feelings, opinions and ideas so you can really hear what another person has to say, where they may be coming from, or how they’re seeing and experiencing things. This is never more true than in the context of an argument. When we feel attacked, it’s perfectly natural to go into defense mode, but most of the time, no one is attacking us and deep listening can’t happen if you’re in “fight or flight” mode. People may see things differently, but if you’re in a close relationship with someone, it’s unlikely they want to go for your jugular (and if they do, you’re probably with someone who needs help figuring out how to manage their anger).

We all want to be known, seen and understood. It’s beautiful when you allow yourself to open to another person, but the more you do that, the more you have to be willing to be vulnerable and that requires trust. When you have the feeling that someone is really seeing you, and suddenly that same person seems to be misunderstanding you, it can feel like a betrayal. Sometimes we have embarrassment or unease because some of our flaws slipped out and now this person who had this image of us may be seeing something we don’t want them to see, or something we’d rather not see ourselves. There are all kinds of reasons a person gets defensive, or shuts down, or runs for the door. Often it feels safer to dig our heels in and defend our position, to “win” the fight. If you’re trying to get close to someone, though, and if you want to be seen, it’s not a fight and this isn’t your opponent. A person is either going to love and accept you with all your flaws and absurdity, or they aren’t. You can only be known if you allow yourself to be known. Most people are not going to be able to read your mind and if you’re only willing to show the shiny, status update, perfect picture version of yourself, that instagram glow, the 140-character gem that you thought of while walking your dog, then you’ll never really be seen because we’re all complex and we all make mistakes, and we all have choices we wish we could make over again and differently.

People dig their heels in when they’re attempting to hide or to hold on. Or the level of reactivity is high. That’s one of the main things a consistent yoga practice addresses and encourages — the ability to sit with intense sensation, calmly. A burning feeling in your quadriceps is not all that different than a burning feeling in your heart, like rage. It’s a temporary sensation, and if you can open to it and examine it, it will open you and strengthen you, and teach you something about yourself. If you fly off the handle every time you feel something intense, you deny yourself those opportunities to become more aware, more accountable, and more able to trust yourself.

Of course there are legitimate times when you’ll disagree with someone, or see things in a completely different way, but if you really want to know the people in your life, it’s so useful if you can learn to listen deeply. Open to it even if it’s something you don’t want to hear or accept. Maybe this person is attempting to show you something essential about who they are, or where they are on their path. Maybe you’re going to discover a new way of thinking about something. It’s possible you’re going to realize there’s some fundamental philosophical difference that you’re not going to be able to get past, but there’s no point in denying someone else’s reality, even if you disagree with it. You might as well open your heart and your mind to their point of view. Maybe you’ll go back to your own, and maybe something will shift for you, but real listening is not the same as waiting for your turn to speak and being right is not nearly as satisfying as being seen.

Wishing you love, and the power to pause, breathe, and listen,

Ally Hamilton

Leave a Reply