In this Field Note I will offer you an idea and a practice to cultivate the vital energy in connection; listening and speaking simultaneously—‘conscious multidimensional communication construction in the moment.’ Interestingly enough, medical science notes the vital inter-connection between the health of our physical heart and the wellness of our emotional life. Most all of us would like to be joyful, content, loved, and loving. Yet the challenge of attaining such seems to be inordinately difficult. Nowhere do I find it more visible, or obvious, than in my professional practice (as well as in my personal life) where lovers, married, partnered, or not, show up, full of torment and anguish. Understandably the big question shows up: “What has gone wrong that the two of us, who loved each other extremely, are now in the midst of relational hell?” (I am also mindful of those not in relationship who live with all the exigiencies that accompany that life status.) As the conventional expressions indicate there are differentiations, falling in love is one thing, and being in love, another. And being love is yet another, as the mystic traditions describe. Aided by hormones and our own idealized projections, we may readily fall in love, but sustaining that state is nearly, if not totally, impossible for most. What to do? How do we go from falling in love to being in love, or perhaps better, being love? I have mentioned in a previous Field Note, Alain du Boton’s YouTube video, Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCS6t6NUAGQ). And a central question that perhaps we won’t delve too deeply into in this Field Note, is what exactly do we mean by the word love?
I intend here to focus on one central experience of the lover’s dilemma: the statement, delivered in a wide range of tones and with an equally wide range of intensity, “You are not listening to me!” This statement shows up regularly in relationship. Much has been written and talked about regarding the lost art of listening. I contend that conscious and authentic listening is not a lost art; rather it is an art still waiting to be found. Indeed, there is no shortage of written material about listening. The general assumption behind this is that we are hard of listening: we don’t listen well. But is it true? Is the problem that we don’t listen or listen well? I will offer a different perspective here.
Most of us grew up in environments where we, as children, are supposed to listen while the adults (parent(s), teachers, clergy, coaches, etc.) told us what we, in the view of the adults, needed to hear and know. I think it is a good idea at this point in life to recognize that these adults, and now us adults, who are perhaps also parents, had parents who also heard from the ‘big’ people what they presumably needed to hear. Children are told to listen but adults are rarely good models of listening, and this intergenerational model keeps getting reproduced, apparently endlessly! As one ethnic saying goes (if I recall correctly, it’s a Korean saying), where you sow red bean seed, you get a red bean plant; where you saw green bean seed, you get a green bean plant. Heidegger the great German philosopher, stated it well in my view, “Great teachers model how to learn.” I would also add that it is certainly the case that at times the adults will indeed have something important for children to hear. Of course, often we have become so conditioned to ignoring the adults that even the good words are not heard.
There are indeed further complexities and complications: Those who are deemed to be good listeners are actually often afraid to speak, as this leaves them with a feeling of vulnerability. Similarly, those who speak a lot are often fearful of being quiet as this also opens vulnerability. I invite you to reflect, deeply and honestly, on your personal formative history of how you have become a listener, or avoided becoming a listener, and perhaps become a talker. As well, look into your own way of performing listening and expressing, identifying what is your strength, what is your dimension for growth, and how you can work on all of this in your inner world, and in your relational world with those most important to you in your life.
I believe that the so-called listening problem (i.e., being ‘hard of listening’) is not an isolated problem that’s just about ‘listening.’ Interpersonal communication does not just involve listening; nor just talking. It involves listening and talking, and looking, seeing, silences in-between, body and facial expressions, gestures, bodily dispositions, and any number of non-discursive (non-verbal) signals that do not involve words. In short, it involves whole persons in relationship to each other, and within the context of the larger environment in which people are placed. In particular, what is needed is a refined ability to speak and listen simultaneously.
I have the assumption that every human being was born with, and continues to have, at least somewhere in the depths of their consciousness, a deep desire to be known by another person and to reciprocate this knowingness in a consistent and ongoing way. You could say that this arises from the deep and nonverbal desire of each of us when we were infants and wanted to be held closely, safely, and to experience a deep and ongoing attunement from our caregivers. For all kinds of reasons this attunement is disrupted to varying degrees with most everyone. As an adult, now you have the opportunity to reawaken this need, most likely a painful experience initially, and to develop the skills of conscious multidimensional communication construction in the moment that is simultaneously deep attunement in a continuous two-way dialogue of simultaneous expressing and listening, particularly with those who are most important in our lives. Of course, the process of rediscovering the depth of this need and developing the skills within yourself and with another person involves an intense and ongoing process of inner and relational work, and increasingly fine-grained skill development. Describing this in detail would require, no doubt, nothing less than a book, but in this short entry, I shall offer a small, but potent, practice: what I have come to call, over the years, “conscious multidimensional communication construction in the moment.” I have mixed feelings about this mouth-full expression, but allow me to proceed and explain what it is, and at least scratch the surface about this quintessential practice.
Ideally, we can recognize and develop our ability to listen and speak simultaneously, and to do this consciously. This latter is an essential component and requires ongoing development of awareness. As well, focus, and a strong desire/interest for attunement; attunement with self, other, and the entire context are givens. What does it mean to listen and speak simultaneously? I see this as meaning being conscious in the moment (a huge practice in the process of becoming more whole all by itself), and, whether speaking or listening, most central is paying attention to the communication coming from the other while simultaneously sending communication to this other. For example, if I am talking and you are not talking, I can potentially notice your communication that shows up other than in words; your signals that are non-verbal and energetic, and that indicate your attentiveness to me and what I am communicating, or your lack of attentiveness, and I have the potential to ‘adjust’ accordingly to what I ‘hear’ that is not in spoken words. I then have the in-the-moment option to say signal something to you about the process of our communication. As well, each of us can be conscious of the communication we are transmitting even though we are not talking. Process communication is a step out of the content dimension of communication, and speaks to how we are apparently connecting, or not! There is, of course, a lot more that can be said about this kind of whole communication process, but I will leave this for another occasion. (As a side note, I share that I am always working with this whole communication process in myself, with the people who come to see me for their own growth process, and with those who are central in my life in an ongoing way or in the moment.)
What would such communication look like in an intimate relationship (between all kinds of gender designations and between any persons in any level of relationship)? Here is a small dialogue example involving, in the present case, a HE and a SHE:
HE: I feel very warm in my body and also warm towards you.
SHE: I notice that as you say that I can feel a warmth growing in me in the center of my chest and feel very solid on the ground. I also am aware that in my mind is a question: does he mean it?
(His eyes suddenly look off to the side, as she is speaking and he is aware that he is thinking about what she has said, and is stepping back from the direct transmission she is offering.)
(She notices, and internally realizes, that he is probably no longer with her. She wonders to herself, ‘should I keep talking? Shall I become silent? Should I say something to him about his apparent withdrawal into thought? She decides to go silent, even though she had more to say. A pause ensues, after which he again speaks.)
HE: I am aware that I felt fearful when you told me that you were thinking, ‘does he mean it?’ I became fearful and wondered if we would now have a rupture experience and that I would feel badly and lonely.
(He notes that she is still looking at him and sends a signal of acknowledgement with a small nod. She ever so slightly smiles, acknowledging reception.)
HE: I am aware that you are still looking at me. I am very appreciative of that, and at the same time I am fearful about the intensity of our contact and dialogue, and I’m wondering whether I can handle it. I think I need help . . ..
(He notices that when he said he need help, she seemed to become very soft in her demeanor. He notes internally that he feels that he is accompanied and offers a small smile. She nods slightly, potentially sending notice of reception of his non-verbal signal. As well, both are energized, and this energy is part of the atmosphere of their relational field in the moment. Their continued animation and engagement further cultivate the energy of the exchange and connection.)
What is demonstrated in this small segment of interaction is the complex and nuanced possibility of interaction between two people who are working to be whole and fully engaged with each other. They both demonstrate some ability to speak and listen simultaneously. Now, this kind of exchange doesn’t have to be “positive,” as in the above. It could be more challenging and even conflictual in nature. Even in the latter experience, conflict, or especially there, conducting the exchange in a life-affirming and growth-oriented way, as in the above example, is important and, most importantly, possible. Such communication involves an integrated process of mind, body, emotion, and one’s life force energy. And I will add that supporting the other to grow through this process is an important value for us to uphold in all our interactions.
Gratitude to Heesoon for her assistance with this Field Note…