Sunday, October 5, 2008

Giving Myself the Silent Treatment

I've found that people have different comfort levels when it comes to sound . . . for instance, my husband likes his music (from gospel to reggae) LOUD. Same with the TV. When I start up his car ( forgetting his tolerance for decibels) the radio will hit me like a cannon blast. And( because I try not to be a nag, really) I've discreetly used ear plugs on more than one occasion during football season--"Go Cowboys! Whoo-hoo-hoo! What? Is that ref out-of-his-mind?!"

On the opposite extreme, is my beautiful, bright and athletic daughter, Brooklynn, who craves silence. She's most at peace hiking alone in the high Sierra Mountains--pines, snow-capped vistas, pulse-quickening elevations --to find an outcropping of boulders where she can sit and lift her face heavenward, closing her eyes and listening in profound silence, with a faith-filled heart.

And then (like the Three Bears and the porridge. Cold-warm-hot) there's folks who fit somewhere in the middle. Who'd rather not wear ear plugs, but still require a little background noise at all times, to keep them from experiencing the strange, edgy sense of disconnection that comes with complete silence. Radio down low in another room, "pink noise" to sleep by, humming little comforting tunes to ourselves like Winnie the Pooh did, and . . . did I say "ourselves"? Oops, busted! Yes. I'm one of the uncomfortable with silence people. Which makes my newest endeavor so challenging:

I'm taking part in a 10-week Community of Hope course based on the principles of Benedictine Spirituality. It teaches compassionate listening. Listening to others with "the ear of your heart." And often means sitting in silence, "being there" without saying a word. Training me to function, in effect, as a lay chaplain.

Let me say right up front that my husband (though he loves me dearly) pretty much laughed at the idea of me sitting silently. Ever. Meaning he doubts my ability to listen without completing sentences or interupting to offer a plethora of kind and helpful "fixes." Um . . . he may be right. I'm not sure if it's the mother- thing, the nurse-thing, the writer-thing, or a combination of all three. But this concept of "active listening" is a challenge. Though it's goal, (helping others by becoming a compassionate listener ) is more than worth the intense work, whether I eventually use the skills for community outreach (like hospital and hospice visits, support groups, assisting the homeless) or in offering help to neighbors, friends and family. Having someone available to "just listen," is a true blessing for someone feeling helpless in the throes of emotional distress. And it's a reassuring reminder of the hope and compassion present in a relationship with God.

So I'm trying. To listen without fixing. To be present without doing. To sit in silence without humming like Pooh Bear. I'm taking baby steps. And some of those steps have me rising just before dawn to tiptoeout to my front porch. Where I sit on an East-facing bench and watch the sun rise, salmon pink and lavender and gold. Light out of darkness. Glorious. Quiet. And hopeful.
It clears my head for writing, and it stirs my soul.

I'm learning to listen with the ear of my heart. And, to my surprise, I'm feeling less edgy and more . . . connected. That's an added blessing.

Now where are those ear plugs? Hubby's brandishing the remote, and the Cowboys are playing Cincinnati.

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