In the fast paced, eager to be heard world in which we live, it can be so easy to be present without truly connecting to our surroundings and those around us. Technology. Texting. Tweeting. Posting. Agendas. Stress. Noise. Wanting to be heard. All of these things can get in the way of listening to our environment, and to what those around us have to say.
I recall an assignment given my first year in acting school. We were told to take 10 minutes each evening to sit and listen. Just tune into our space, and to record in a journal what we heard. We also had many, many exercises intended to develop our ability to hear our acting partners, and to listen to the subtle cues given to us on stage. My listening assignments became my favorite 10 minutes of the day, and for a while, I found myself listening to others in a different way, really wanting to tune in to what they were saying.
Another time my attention was brought to the importance of listening was at a seminar I was attending that discussed a concept of listening through filters, or the idea of "already always listening." Meaning that, as people with histories, we listen to people and interpret what they are saying through previous experiences. I will never forget a story a woman told about her Sundays spent with her mother. The story goes likes this: Every Sunday, this woman, (whom we shall call Kay) went to visit her mother. Kay's Sundays with Mom always ended in a fight, and so each Sunday, as she dutifully drove to her mother's home, her stomach would tie into knots. The scenario usually went like this: Kay walked to the house, greeted her mother, and then the trouble began.
Ma: Oh, Kay. Whatta' ya wearin' that for?
Kay: (Hearing criticism) Ma, why do you always have to be so hard on me?
Ma: Whatta' ya talkin about? Why can't I ever even talk to you without it being an issue?
Kay then held a grudge all day long and bickered with her mother until she left, or on especially tense days, Kay stormed out of the house and held a grudge until the next Sunday, when it all happened again. Kay was already always listening in a way that interpreted her mother's words as criticism. Made aware of this habit, Kay decided to listen, and ask questions. On the next Sunday, when Ma asked her why she was wearing what she was wearing, Kay asked:
Kay: Ma, why do you always have to ask me why I am wearing what I am wearing when I visit you?
Ma: Because you always look so dressed up and nice, and I am just your Ma! I want to know why you get so dressed up for me!
This simple moment changed the dynamics of those Sunday visits. By simply receiving and then asking, Kay and Ma connected in a deeper way. Because Kay was willing to challenge her filter, their connection became anchored in the NOW, and not in the past.
As of late, I have been struggling with the concept of being present where I am, and not thinking to the future so much. (both immediate and long term...) I've been looking for ways to anchor me to the NOW. After listening to Julian Treasure's talk, I realize that focussing more on listening may help me with this pursuit. On reflection, I realize that, as of late, I probably haven't been listening to those around me so well. A busy schedule, long to-do list, endless multi-tasking, and constantly trying to stay connected with others far away may contribute to my not staying connected to the now, to those in my immediate proximity. There is also the maybe-not-so-great-habit of thinking of how to respond while someone is talking that gets in the way of hearing what they have to say. Interesting that a habit created out of the hopes of deepening a connection may actually get in the way of truly connecting!
RASA, simple, easy, and worth the effort if, as Julian Treasure says, it will lead to connection, understanding, and peace.
Erin Michelle Threlfall
Theatre Artist, Activist, and Educator, Erin is the mother of a budding genius in his 7th year of study. Erin and her little man, Edem, have a plan to investigate world theatre and influence education one continent at a time. Ghana, South Korea, Togo and Bali have been checked off the list of places to live; these days they call Brooklyn home.