Listening

I am in the process of spewing a torrent of navel-gazing thoughts when I feel a calm, still space in front of me. It is similar to sensing a pair of eyes on you and turning to see a bird watching, calmly perched, unruffled and uninterested in whether or not you see it.

I slow down my words and turn my attention toward Richard. He has shaped himself into a deep, clear well and the almost unbearable stillness he generates gives me a place to land. I have never been great at landing; in fact, I’ve spent most of my life avoiding it, so I hover, bob and weave in reaction to the stillness. Hoping to keep myself aloft, I throw out a few more words before I skitter to a stop, right in the middle of a sentence.

Richard is listening. He is not just hearing my words with his ears and processing them through his brain in order to generate an appropriate response. I mean, he IS listening. When I look at him, it’s as if I can see that all of my words have collected around him, in the space he made and is holding steady. They are looking back at me with little smiles on their faces, relieved that I’m not flinging them around at warp speed anymore. My words are happy over there with him because they just get to be, without the added stress of being interpreted, explained away or pressured into carrying more than one meaning at a time. And then I get to see them this way, too, just floating there where I left them, and my tired brain gets to rest. I can count on one hand the times in my life someone has listened to me this way.

Had I known 15 years ago, when I first stepped into the dojo to learn from Richard, that this work would lead me to love, I would have rolled my eyes and walked away. Love, for me, was inextricably interconnected to violence and I wanted no part of it. Until I was 30 years old, every time I used the word love out loud, I contained it in air quotes and sarcasm. Love was a dangerous place to land, so I worked and worked to make a home for myself in the air, just outside the relentless reach of love.

When Richard started listening, I somehow got invited in, underneath the noise in my head, to a place where words will only get me further away from myself. It is a frightening relief. I am unaccustomed to being this way, and want to launch myself out of my skin and back into the air, where I am comfortably chaotic. But I can also feel the strong arms of stillness holding me. I have wanted to be held like this my entire life. I know I could rest here, but instead I toss and turn like there’s a stranger in my bed and every way I try to rest places me in uncomfortable relationship with the stranger and I stay awake counting the seconds til morning.

I struggle between these two worlds. My world of words and thoughts feels like I am constantly walking against the flow of a parade. This world requires me, in every moment, to press forward into the fray, knowing that if I stop for a second to catch my breath, I will be swept into the crowd and lose myself, and my way. It is an exhausting and precarious world, and the parade is relentless.

The other world is quiet. I can be still there without losing my way. In fact, stillness IS the way there.

I don’t think it is Richard who invited me into the stillness. He entered into it before me and left the door open a crack. It reminds me of the way bakeries vent their ovens out onto the street so that people walking by get drawn in by the smell of warm cookies and some symbolic memory of home. The warm cookie smell wafts toward me and pulls my body into stillness. I think it is Love that invited me here.

For me, I am drawn in by some memory of home. Not home, like the first house I remember with the blue shag carpet in our basement playroom, but my home in the universe, where there has always been and will always be a place for me. My whole body aches to return to this home, but I have been gone from it for years, and everything is almost unrecognizable under a thick layer of dust.

I can recognize the gift Richard has given me–the space he made for my words to land, the way he just held them there for me to see, when I was ready, and I feel how this gift has transformed me over the years. The act of listening, of Richard’s simply making room, being curious with me, or just being with me as I gathered the courage to see myself, has fundamentally changed me. Now I know that listening like that is an act of love. What grew from Richard’s listening is love–the capacity to love myself just as I am, to love and be loved. To come home to myself with tenderness and without fear.

It occurred to me a couple of months ago when I heard myself say my usual shpiel to a client, “the fundamental practice of somatic work is building our capacity to be with what is, without having to contract away from it, collapse under it, react out of it or spend our energy wishing it was different” that this is the mechanism at the core of love. Being with what is, at its core, is the practice of compassion and love. And now there’s a familiar voice that I hear when I invite a client to be with what is. The voice is joyful and it’s saying “love” over and over again in celebration. No air quotes, no sarcasm. And then wherever I am, I find Richard in the Universe and join in with the joyful voice, saying “thank you for this. Thank you.”

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