A little over a year ago my mother died and about a year ago I started a new habit of daily meditation. After my mother’s death, I felt untethered and my mind was overwhelmed with emotions, feeling, questions and thoughts. I needed to regain some control. There are so many things in life that we can’t control. When I get upset, I clean. It’s the one thing I can control when things seem to be spiraling out of control.
I write in a journal on a daily basis and have for well over a decade and have diaries that date back to 1980! Writing is a form of meditation for me – a download of thoughts and emotions. I found this to be incredibly helpful for me to proceed with my days having dumped out whatever was on my mind earlier that morning on paper. Unlike right now where I am typing this article directly into my computer; my diary is handwritten. I love the feeling of pen to paper. I find that therapeutic in of itself. However, I needed some tools in my tool belt to be able to help calm me down sometimes for when sitting down with pen and paper is not an option.
Many years ago when my life was spiraling out of control, I started having panic attacks. So I turned to meditation. I started a little each morning here and there. That was about 7 years ago now. I had been meditating on and off for many years but never every day as I have in the last 346 consecutive days (and counting). I have meditated 577 days using my Insight Timer app over the course of all those years.
I like the Insight Timer app since you can learn to meditate through the app which offers a wide range of guided meditations of varying lengths and focuses. I have listened to a number of talks and lectures about Buddhism, Taoism and more. I have used their app at bedtime at times when I need a guided meditation to help me drop off to sleep. They even have bedtime tales you can choose from – one night I fell asleep to The Velveteen Rabbit read to me. By the way, I don’t get anything from them to talk about them. I just really have enjoyed using their app.
I enjoy the way Insight Timer is set up allowing for searching by topics such as Affirmations, Chakras, Mantra, Mindfulness, Pranayama, Vipassana, Walking Mediations and Zen. Both Zazen and Kōan. If you want to use their timer feature to create your own customized meditation timer with the ability to use starting, interim and ending bells, chimes, gongs, or nothing at all. You can set background music or sounds or mediate in silence. You set the time and can save your presets. They make everything quite easy for you.
You can also save your favorites and can follow teachers that you like. They encourage you to donate to the teachers and make that easy for you to do charging it to your Apple Pay account. The teachers are from all over the world.
After so long by far one of our favorite teachers has become DavidJi from Los Angeles, CA. He offers a number of courses and we have taken three of the four of them that he offers on the Insight Timer. Mark and I dove into The 40 Days of Transformation where he guided us through meditations, intention setting, yoga philosophy, pranayama and so much more.
We were hooked after completing the forty days and followed it up with his course 30 Day Journey to Rebirth. We have also done his Awaken The Sacred Power of Shakti this year and plan on taking The Healing Sessions: Freeing Your Soul Through The Second Meditation of the Day.
Early on, we took the Masterclass –Mindfulness and Meditation with Jon Kabat-Zinn. This was an extremely helpful class to take which broke down a lot of questions that we had about mediation and ways to do it, what it was all about, etc… Soon after finishing that class I bought Mark and I both proper mediation cushions and pillows to ensure that, as David Ji says “Comfort is Queen and feather your nest” so that you can be still during your mediation practice. It’s amazing the difference the right set up can make which will allow me to sit still and “drop in” to meditation for 30 minutes or more. Sometimes without moving at all. Other times, I may have to stretch a leg to regain circulation.
I have found that this new habit is addictive and I will do what I need to protect my precious time to sit on the cushion, although sometimes I will be laying down, using on my acupressure mat or on some ice packs for the time. It has opened a door up to so many other doors. Mark and I find ourselves exploring Buddhism, Taoism, Collective Consciousness just to begin with.
I have learned a few things about myself and what I am capable of. I have found that I have a calmness within that I am able to tap into when things around me start to get crazy. Mark and I have started to introduce Tai Chi into our lives. Although it is not a daily practice yet but that is our goal to incorporate it into our daily practice. I look forward to this continued journey of discovery.
It’s been unseasonably warm these last few weeks and some of the dandelions have popped up in the yard. Boomer took time out to join me to stop and smell the flowers; something our busy, hectic lives can make difficult at times. This week, I made an effort to get outside and enjoy the nice warm temperatures. I sat out and sunned myself while listening to one of my audiobooks. I sat outside and groomed the dogs, so I wouldn’t have to vacuum the fur up in the house. Besides it’s been in the mid 70s for the last 6 days, record breaking temperatures for Central New Hampshire. I unbelievably was stung by a bald faced hornet on November 9th – my left index finger has been inchy ever since and I have had to pop Benadryl every 4 to 6 hours. But it’s been a glorious few days of weather which I know will end very soon and we will be in for our long, cold, winter.
For the last five years or so, we have been trying to get in the habit of mediating. We’d be on a roll for a while and then something would interrupt our flow and we wouldn’t mediate, then we’d try again but never been able to make it stick.
This year has been different, in more ways than one. We’ve been meditating on a fairly regular basis this year. The quarantine kicked it into high gear, and we are on a regular roll. I found mediating particularly helpful in early March when the shit was hitting the fan for our family in more ways than the lockdown and COVID19. Our family was dealing with some personal stuff which highlighted to me how life continued despite the quarantine. I found that there were more moments where I started to feel panicky, the anxiety levels were entering uncharted territory. Mark and I weren’t able to be together for three weeks (one week away, two weeks in quarantine) – away from me and the kids. He’d been out in the Petri dish, we had to be cautious.
It was during this time that I clung to my meditation sessions although I had altered when I did them. Mark and I always start our day out with mediation but during that time we were separated I needed to mediate at night when I was alone in our bed. I never have trouble sleeping – it drives Mark insane since I can fall asleep in the midsentence while talking to him in bed at night. He needs to read and unwind. My head hits the pillow and I’m out cold. By 8pm. I wake anytime between 4am and 5am usually though.
But in mid-March when everything was so uncertain, I needed help falling asleep as my mind would race with all sorts of thoughts. I turned to my mediation app which I knew had nighttime, help you fall asleep mediations. I need guidance to help settle my mind.
The app we use, Insight Timer has all sorts of meditations that you can easily filter the length of time, whether you want background music or not, whether you prefer a male or a female voice, the benefits you seek, etc…They also offer courses and after over a year of using the app, we have decided to give a try. Later this morning we will do Day 8 of our 10-day course, each day has been building upon the next; teaching us how to body scan and different visualization techniques. It also keeps track of how much we’ve mediated and rewards us with milestones that help encourage you on your progress. Since using the app, I’ve meditated for a total of 2.5k minutes and reached 7 milestones. One of which is 128 days with at least one session and another being that I have meditated 23 consecutive days. I believe that is a record for me. As I said doing it everyday in the beginning was the challenge as we worked towards working it into our routine.
Since Mark has been out of quarantine, we have gone back to our usual morning sessions. My daughter would join us in the mornings when she was here – sometimes coming downstairs to sit with us in the family room while we meditated, other times simply joining in from her bedroom upstairs as she would sometimes wake up to our sessions. I’d love to get my son more involved as I know it would be a good habit for him to get into. He was usually sound asleep when we meditated. We have found our sweet spot to be around 7am before 8am when the phone starts to ring and we start off our work day. We work from home, so we have control over the schedule but have found it best to get things started earlier than latter here in the homestead.
Life is always about having to deal with unknowns, they just aren’t usually on the intensity level that they have been recently. Life will always throw you curve balls and you just try to deal with them a pitch at a time. The mediation sessions have helped me deal with each pitch, by helping me to take a step back, take a deep breath and calm my mind and my body which has allowed me to take on the challenges of life a little more effectively.
I have much to be excited about as I look around. I have my garden which I planted alongside my daughter who I got to spend time with for ten weeks during quarantine. Sorry for the reason, but so thankful for the time with her. The garden should provide plenty of healthy, fresh produce for me and my family if we have a good season. I need it too since having my two adult children live under the same roof again depleted our rations of canned tomato sauce and salsa a little more than twice as much if it had been just Mark and I. But it made me smile each and every time they opened a jar of our homegrown goodness and raved about how good it taste.
I’m excited to work in the garden and be outside with the sun shining and even if it’s not. After a number of months being cooped up inside because the weather was too miserable to enjoy being outside for any given time, I’m not too picky about when is a good time to spend out in the garden. Just as long as there aren’t too many bugs and it’s not too hot. My garden has fantastic sunlight so I have to pick and choose my hours which tend to be early in the morning and after 5pm.
I’m excited about the new chickens we have now! Khaleesi, Gertrude, Ethel and Lucy have joined our homestead. It’s always a thrill to walk into the hen house and see the daily deposit of freshly laid eggs. Which in turn has made us excited about breakfast and any recipe that has eggs in it. I get excited now to do the weeding since the hens love the dandelions and eat them right up, it no longer feels like weeding and more like harvesting. I know human enjoy eating dandelion leaves in salads and making tea or wine but until now they were just weeds. So I’m excited about that – it goes for all weeds pretty much too. Plus the chickens are so much fun to watch they make me excited to just come out to the yard and sit and watch.
Finally I am excited about the flowers which are beginning to bloom and I know will blooming throughout the summer and into the fall. I have a short season up here on the mountain, so I am grateful for the time we are given and excited to see it all unfold.
It can be difficult to get excited about the future when we are dealing with so many unknowns. But it’s in times like these where you need to take a deep breath, take a step back and look for the good things, they don’t have to be big things, just small positives. It’s easy to see the negative, especially when you are looking for it. When you are looking for it – that it all you will see. It’s harder to look for the positives, the good things – not matter how big or small they may be. But once you start to look for the positives, I thik they become easier to see.
I’ve been part of team in many different capacities. Whether it was as a member of a sports team or as a member of a team working on a group project in school or work, I learned some of the most valuable life lessons working as a team.
In sports, I was on a team as a player and as a coach, each very different experiences which I learned valuable lessons. The most incredible part for me was watching young athletes learn and develop their skills and watch the confidence build inside them. I coached girls’ lacrosse for six years when my daughter was in elementary school and they were some of the most rewarding days of my life. I loved working with those kids and watching them grow not only in the sport but as individuals too. I think that exposing children to being on some sort of team is important. It teaches them how to work together which is a valuable life lesson. It doesn’t have to be a sports team either since there are many opportunities in school where you have to work on a group project for academic classes.
Being on a team teaches people crucial skills about cooperating, communicating, and connecting with other people. It doesn’t matter whether its a two-person team or a team with 22 people or more, members of the team have to be able to listen to one another, be willing to be open to new ideas or ways to accomplish the team’s common goal. There’s a beauty in watching people work together, whether it’s on the athletic fields or the workplace.
This stands in stark contrast to the teams of politicians which is our government. That’s not pretty to watch at all. Our government should be run more like a team, all working towards one common goal. Instead they act more like they are on opposite teams rather than on the same team, failing to listen to each other, or the American people. Perhaps if they were able to cooperate better with one another, communicate better with each other and check their egos at the door (a good place to start would be to stop calling themselves leaders when they are actually our representatives); they’d be able to connect better with each other and get things done.
Currently, sports teams across the world on every level are on the sidelines quietly waiting as the world’s attention is turned towards the teams of medical professionals fighting the virus which has paralyzed our world. These are the teams that on a daily basis work together to save lives. They did before the outbreak and they will continue to afterwards.
It’s too bad it took a pandemic for the world to pay attention to these all too important teams. These are the teams that are performing acts of heroism every single day to no particular fanfare other than from those families they may have touched individually. If I was still living in New York City or Boston, I would be one the people who every night at 7pm – raise up their windows and applaud and cheer for the heroic teams of today, the teams of medical professionals who are the front lines of this battle. These are the teams that I admire the most in today’s world. These are the teams that we should all be so thankful for their tenacity in working towards accomplishing their one common goal – to save lives. To save our lives and the ones we love.
Dear grandchildren, You are not even glimmers in your parents’ eyes yet; however, I’m sure you are there somewhere. I’m an optimist, although I think some of our family members would laugh that I think so.
I’m sure it’s very difficult for your parents right now as we are weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope your generation won’t ever have to live through one. They are scary and overwhelming – even for the grown ups who sometimes don’t always act so grown up in trying times like these. However, history has a way of repeating itself, so sit up and pay attention and read your history and learn from it! Just be careful of your sources , there is so much disinformation out there, at least right now in this moment in time.
There are a few things I would like you all to keep in mind going forward and share with my eventual great grandchildren and so forth.
Life is hard and can be unfair at times. You do your best.
Listen to people when they are talking to you. Listening is a valuable skill and do not think about what you’re going to say next while they are talking – that’s not listening! And it’s rude! That includes “multitasking” while listening to someone, like checking your email or playing a game while someone is talking to you. Don’t be rude.
If you still have cell phones -turn them off at home and pay attention to your family – cook together, play games. Your parents have me playing Hangman during our quarantine and it’s really fun!
People can be stupid, even intelligent people.
Learn how to weld, sew, cook and fix things with your own hands.
Read for enjoyment and read to learn.
Be a good friend and treat them the same way you want them to treat you. If they don’t treat you the same way you treat them – they aren’t worth your time.Move on.
Be polite, use your manners.
Be kind but be vigilant in life. Unfortunately, not all people are good and have kind hearts. Some people are evil and have bad intentions which brings me to my next point.
Always trust your gut. Your mind and your heart can send you mixed signals and sometimes lead us in the wrong direction. But your gut is usually spot on.
Keep a well stocked pantry and freezer at all times. You never know when there may be a storm or in our case pandemic that keeps you inside for long periods of time and can’t get to the store the way you used to. Which brings me to my next point…
Know how to grow your own food. it doesn’t have to be all of it. But the more you grow on your own the less you’re dependant on the food chain. I learned a long time ago when I was a research analyst how vulnerable our food chain is. I have the highest respect for our nation’s farmers. They are No.1 in my book but if more people grew some of their own food, it would be some much better and safer in my opinion. It’s simple and easy to do. You don’t need a lot of space even. I should know that’s what I decided to do after covering all those agribusiness stocks when I worked as a research analyst. I’ve been teaching people how to start growing their own food for 8 years now with your Great Opa. We have enjoyed working together in all the gardens, teaching people of all ages how to start their gardens and maintain them. Your Great Opa likes to call us Garden Coaches. I hope you are not all living in the city, however I’m sure one or two of you have been enticed by the big city life. If you are you should still grow some of your own greens. You can use a Tower Garden with lights – it takes up no room at all and I’m sure by your generation they will have so many more designs.
Family is so important. which brings me to
13. Cherish your family but know that sometimes you may find yourself in situations where you may have to get tough and even possibly walk away forever from a family member. There’s a fine line and again this is where your heart can lead you astray and why I you need to pay attention to #10.
I grew up in the city. I was born and raised there and my heart breaks for the 517 New Yorkers in the 5 boroughs who have lost their lives so far and their families. Some whole families have been lost to this invisible threat and worldwide today so far 652,079 cases with 30,313 deaths with 121,117 cases here in the United States with 2010 deaths thus far. I won’t continue with all the details but suffice it to say I don’t believe the worst is over yet. Time will tell as it does so well. I assume by your generation you will be dealing with another new viral threat which is also why I thought I should pass along these pearls of wisdom.
I used to think it was Charles Darwin that said “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” As it turns out a business professor named Leon C. Megginson who was interpreting Darwin’s work, “On the Origin of Species”. A perfect example of how the internet can repeated repeat inaccuracies and falsities. Check and recheck. Don’t be part of the problem. Regardless, I believe you should remember the lesson the words teach us. The ones who survive are the ones who are able to adapt.
14. Things change – that’s part of life and it can be a good part of life. But sometimes it can be not so good either. You make do with what you have and I’m not just talking about material goods – like the ones I mentioned earlier in your hopefully well stocked pantry. No, I mean you have to accept that life will constantly put hurdles in your way. Personally, professionally, or in our case globally. Whatever the scale. You must be flexible and adapt to the the new landscape before you. You may have to bob and weave a few times as the initial changes are being made and worked out, but remain flexible. Your life will depend on it.
15. Take care of your health -it’s really the key to having a good life. Stay active but be safe. Don’t take it for granted. You don’t know everything – this is especially important if you are between the ages of 16 to 25, maybe 30 for the boys. You’re bodies are also not invincible and anything you do in your younger years, you most likely will feel in your older years. That is unless medicine has advanced so much as to be able to regenerate our deteriorated and torn apart areas of our bodies.So stay in good health. That includes your mental health which is why I also recommended #18 and 19 also. People have a way of taking things like their health for granted. People unfortunately have a way of also taking other people for granted which isn’t good. That would be #16 – don’t take friends and family for granted.
17. Be your own best friend first that way you can be a good friend to others. Learn how to spend time with yourself , be able to entertain yourself.
18. Keep learning new things no matter your age. Whether it be learning how to paint or speak a new language. Just open your mind and keep learning.
19. Spend time in the woods with the trees and the rocks. They have been around much longer than us and will remain long after we are all gone. Feel them, touch them, smell them. Listen to the wind in the leaves. Meditate out there. Hopefully the mountain house will still be in the family for you to enjoy. If I hope you have a place for from a city that’s heavily populated. Which brings me to my next point.
20. Always have options. It’s best to give yourself has many options to choose from in this life. Sometimes our options are limited but plan properly (#21) and don’t procrastinate (#22).
21. Take care of the land and the environment around you. Our generation has struggled with this – my prayers are by your generation we will have done a better job of figuring things out. Particularly given our collective timeout we are all on. Live sustainably and don’t be wasteful. Compost your food scraps and use them in your garden.
Currently it’s like Mother Nature has put the world on a collective time-out. I used to put your parents on a time-out when they were little and misbehaved. Covid-19 was first prominent in China in December but I read one report that said the first report could have been as early as November 17th. As more and more people get sick, entire countries have had to shut down businesses with orders to Stay At Home. Many people are able to work from home but many are not. It’s a scary time for people.
On the flip side the canals in Venice have cleared in the weeks since they have had to stop the commercial boating traffic that used to congest the Grand Canal on a daily basis. China’s air is cleaner too according to satellite imagery. So as the Earth heals, the humans continue to sicken. The invisible threat weaving its way through societies across the world. Unfortunately many thousands have died and we have no idea when we will turn a corner.
Unfortunately, some people don’t listen as well as others and some people have unknowingly spread the virus. That’s why I repeat #2 Listen and also why I mentioned #4 some people are stupid.
22. Open your heart to a dog (or cat – although I’m not a cat person at all) but to each their own. Having a fur friend to take care of helps you live a better life. A dog is always happy to see you when you come home from a hard day and that can make a world of difference to your mental health. Let animals into your world – dog, cat, rabbit, goat, pig, horse, bird. Pets can teach us so many different things about ourselves and life in general.
23. Always be honest. It’s crucially important for you to be honest. First and foremost always be honest with yourself. It may sound like a ridiculously simple concept but there are so many people who swim in the waters of denial.
24. Have friends and meet new people – all the while keeping a vigilant eye.
25. Open your heart to another and love. Find someone whom you can share your life with – the good and the bad. It’s easier when you have someone to help take the weight when it gets too heavy. Find someone who makes you a better version of who you already are. Someone who compliments you and I don’t mean your ego, but there is that too on occasion.
Well that’s all I have for you right now. Remember the lessons in this letter. Live them. They should serve you well.
All my eternal love, Your Yaya Xine
p.s. No. 26 Travel when you can- but do so safely. We have so much we can all learn from one another and from other cultures. But be aware when we travel that we can spread disease. So my final lesson I leave you with No. 27 practice safe hygiene. It can and will save your life and the lives of others.
How many times have you been talking to someone and they are distracted by their cellphones, checking their mail or some all important thing that can’t wait until you finish your conversation? Or you were late to do something because you’re cell phone distracted you? Have you ever bumped into someone or something or took a misstep because you were too busy looking at your phone? You wouldn’t be alone if you have, although some people’s misfortunes end up on You Tube or the national evening news, such as the man who fell down a manhole because he was distracted by his cell phone. It’s a world-wide problem apparently and a quick Google search turned up a slew of videos of people too distracted to pay attention to their surroundings because they were looking at their phones.
The cellphone is one of the biggest distractions that people face on a daily basis, whether it’s at home, work and unfortunately in the car while driving. Businesses have had to make rules about their employees having their cell phones out because it interferes with how well they do their jobs. In 2008 over 1,000 people were sent to the ER with an injury that resulted from texting and walking; doubling from what it had been the two previous years. [I could not find a more recent stat for texting and walking but if it had been doubling two years running ten years ago, it certainly doesn’t bode well for today’s numbers I imagine.] Distracted driving accounted for 25% of all motor vehicle fatalities in 2018, and in 2015 , cell phones alone accounted for 14% of distracted driving resulting in motor vehicle fatalities. Somewhere along the line people began to be so consumed with checking in on their virtual lives rather than paying attention to their real ones, risking personal injury, even death to themselves and others. Common risks associated with distracted walking include: everything from minor sprains and scrapes to more serious injuries such as broken bones, concussions, spinal cord injury even death – not just to yourself but possibly another person(s) as well.
Scientist have been doing an increasing amount of studies into the human’s ability to visually perceive things. They once believed what the human eye took in was more like a video tape, but studies have demonstrated it is something far less precise when people are not paying attention. The term ‘inattentional blindness’ was coined in 1998 by Arien Mack, PhD of New School of Social research and the late Irvin Rock, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley when published the book, “Inattentional Blindness,” describing a series of experiments on the phenomenon. Mack came to the conclusion that there is no conscious perception without attention. To me this is similar to the difference between hearing and listening which I discussed in an earlier blog post, Listen. Barring any medical issues, similar to the way hearing is an automatic physical process so is seeing – they are two of the five human senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. However, similar to the way one must pay attention in order to effectively listen, so one must also do so to effectively be able to visually perceive what’s going on around them.
Constantly having your head in your phone or staring at your computer screen endlessly for hours on end is not healthy. It doesn’t take a medical degree to know that. Perhaps, it takes a little common sense, which in that case – society may be in trouble.
Are we really capturing the moment when we take photos?
I saw a headline flash across my Alexa EchoShow the other day while working at my desk. It said that a recent study concluded that taking pictures detracts from a person’s overall experience. Kind of hard for a photographer to read but as someone who has been behind the camera for over 40 years now, I completely agree.
A number of years ago when my children were actively playing on their lacrosse, hockey and football teams, I would watch them through the lens of my camera. My daughter was goalie and as the mother of a goalie let me tell you – watching your kid get pelted with missiles that are aimed at them traveling upwards of 30-50mph is very difficult. A mother’s instinct it to defend their young when they are under attack and having to watch and do nothing wasn’t an option for me, so I hid behind my camera, narrowed my focus just on her and not the players on attack.
Many times, hours after the game when the house was quiet I would go over the game photos and find that I relived the game all over again. I would have whole different perspective on the game simply because I had narrowed my focus so much. But did this detract from my overall experience of the game at that time? Absolutely, I wasn’t “present” for the whole game experience. I wasn’t sitting in the stands with the other parents, talking about our kids and cheering them on together; choosing instead to sit on the sidelines by myself with my face in the camera. I wasn’t taking in the entire scene – stepping back and taking in the bigger picture of my environment.
I remember listening to a security expert who was talking on the news shortly after one of the school shootings who was advising kids and adult alike not to get their cell phones out during these intensely dangerous situations because you are not entirely taking in the situation when you are doing that – even if you are just holding your phone up and not looking through the lens.
“Using phones can distract people from the actions they need to be taking in the moment, such as running, hiding and listening to directions from first responders.”
– Ken Trump, Security Expert with 30+yrs experience
The power of observation can be a very effective tool in our life skills and one that should be given a little bit more attention these days. It may be the difference between life and death. If you think you are more observant than the next person, check out a few of these videos to see how well you do.
Hello? Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me Is there anyone at home?
Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
Do you ever feel like when you are talking to people – whether it’s in person or on the phone that they are not listening? I was chatting on the phone with my daughter earlier, she had called me; when after telling her a little tidbit of info, I was met with complete silence. Hello? Hello? I knew the line hadn’t dropped out because I could still hear something on the other end of the line.
“What? What did you say again? Sorry, I got distracted by something on my screen.”
Communication comes from the Latin word communicare, meaning “to share”. Thanks to my high school Latin teacher, Mr. Frank Smith, I always look at the root word when trying to fully understand words. Communication is a two way street, although I find that these days more and more people seem to think it’s a one-way street. People are more concerned with making sure their points are heard than actually giving the effort to actually listen to someone else’s thoughts or ideas. The key to all effective communication is listening.
Listening is a huge part of the communication process and should not be confused with hearing. Hearing is defined as “the faculty or sense by which sound is perceived.” So as long as you don’t have a medical hearing impairment – hearing is an automatic physical process. Listening on the other hand is completely different. Listening requires focus and concentration. It’s the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. It’s not a passive process and a good listener is as engaged in the communication process as the speaker.
Today, sadly, too many people don’t know the difference between hearing and listening. “I hear you” is not the same as “I’m listening to you.” I’m sure many people think that they are indeed listening, but they actually are not. In some cases, people are simply thinking about what their response will be once you’re done talking – that is, if they are polite enough not to interrupt you in order to get their point across. Part of the problem stems from the fact that the average person’s speaking rate is 125-175 words per minute compared to the average processing rate which is 400-800 words per minute. So that leaves plenty of time to daydream and get distracted by your own thoughts or something completely not related. FOCUS PEOPLE. This is one of the biggest barriers to effective listening.
Too many times while visiting with friends or family who we don’t see all that often, I notice everyone has their phones in their hands while they are talking. “I’m listening – I’m just multitasking”. “I have to check my email – don’t worry I’m listening.” “I’m just playing a word game, keep talking – I’m listening.” how many times have we all heard this. The listener isn’t being an active participant in the conversation if their phone is in their hand. I’m equally guilty of this when hanging out at times. I’ve been accused of “not being present” because I had my head in my phone while claiming “I’m just looking at my Instagram feed!” Guilty as charged.
Listening serves a number of purposes given the situation and the nature of the communication. According to the website skillsyouneed.com one of the eight purposes to listening is to: “to specifically focus on the message being communicated, avoid distractions and preconceptions.” (I think we need to teach this specifically in schools because no one out there gets the second part of this statement.)
Let’s break this down, I think most people would agree that when you listen its for the purpose to hear someone ‘s message being communicated. But its the rest of the statement which people don’t heed: “avoid distraction and preconceptions”. Wow! Where to begin… I already mentioned the cellphone being a major distraction which I think most people would agree is an obvious barrier to effective listening in all of our lives. But let’s focus on this other part, the “preconceptions”. I don’t think very many people actually listen with an open mind. People have their beliefs and that’s that – my way or the high way. Or so it seems more and more these days.
The second and third purposes of listening is “gain a full and accurate understanding into the speakers point of view and ideas and to critically assess what is being said.” Wait a minute, this is particularly where for me listening deviates from hearing since when you hear something it’s just automatic, when you are listening you have to know take that information and actually processes what is being said.
The fourth purpose of listening includes the power of observation. When you listen to someone you should be looking at them, observing the non-verbal signals accompanying what is being said. This enhances your understanding of what’s going on.
Fifth on the list of purposes of listening, is to show interest, concern and concentration. If you have ever been a public speaker and stood before an audience – big or small, or even if you are talking to your best friend – there is nothing worse than talking to the top of someone’s head because their attention is more on their phone than what you are saying. which leads to the sixth reason which is to encourage the speaker to communicate fully, openly and honestly. Something which can be difficult if you think the people you are trying to talk to are not fully present.
When you are “multi-tasking” while listening to someone else, you are being selfish, rather than taking a selfless approach, in putting the speaker first. Lastly, one of the biggest reasons for listening is to be able to arrive at a shared and agreed understanding and acceptance of both sides’ views. This last reason proves to me that no one in politics actually listens to one another.
This year I am trying much harder to put my phone down particularly when I am around my family and friends. Emails can wait and certainly word games can be played in quiet moments when I’m alone. When I go out I may have my phone with me in my pocket or purse, but I keep it put away so I’m not distracted nor tempted by it. It’s really the only way to fully listen and pay attention to what’s going on around us. So next time you are talking with a friend and you notice that you are looking more at the top of their head than their eyes, you’ll know they aren’t really listening to you.
This week as I gazed upon my Christmas tree, I cried a river of tears for the victims, their families and their friends who are faced which such a tragic loss at this time. My tree has an angel on the top, she’s a beautiful angel with a porcelain head, pretty wings and dress made of netting. She’s holding two candles and a light from within makes her glow. I grew up with a star on our Christmas tree. As I recall it was a fairly cheesy looking thing too with tinsel and colored lights. When I was old enough to get my own Christmas tree, I used a star at first something similar to the one I grew up with.
The angel came about by perhaps divine intervention. I had stumbled upon a late night Christmas movie, The Bishop’s Wife starring David Niven, Cary Grant and Loretta Young. It’s a fabulous classic Christmas movie and as late as it was that night sucked me in immediately. Cary Grant plays an angel in the movie sent down to help David Niven who plays the Bishop.
The movie originally came out in 1947 shortly after WWII. It was a time when many were trying to rebuild their post-war lives and their was still a great need for stories of nostalgia, hope and faith. Our world is vastly different than it was in 1947, but the need for stories of hope and faith are just as great today if not more. Today’s world is a very frightening place where we are no longer safe at college, a movie theater, a mall or even a elementary school. A tragedy of the magnitude of Sandy Hook brings people together. It touches so many people beyond the victims and their families because most everyone has been a first grader at some point, or are a parent who has sent their children off to school, or may have a teacher in their family and because of this all wonder my god what if that had been me, or my child, or my sister or mother?
The pain and grief I have felt this week is eerily similar to the way I felt after 9/11. I was born and raised in New York City which caused me to feel the attack on my birthplace as very personal. A friend’s husband lost his life that day and many of my friends who worked in the financial district had been devastated by their experiences of what they witnessed and tales of escaping the city. I knew our world would never be the same after that. Misuse of religion, power, box cutters and airplanes caused that tragic day. In Newtown, Connecticut a young man who was mentally ill killed his mother because he was afraid she was going to have him committed. He decided to misuse three guns and because of it there are now 26 new angels who no longer walk this earth.
Shortly after reading this news it reminded me of the Boomtown Rats song, “I Don’t Like Mondays”. In 1979, Brenda Spenser shot 9 people, 2 adults and 7 children from her house which was across the street from her home.
The silicon chip inside her head gets switched to overload And nobody’s gonna go to school today She’s gonna make them stay at home….
The more things change the more they stay the same it seems.
I don’t consider myself to be a very religious person. I was not raised in a religious household. I do not go to church regularly. I used to be a “submarine church goer”, only surfacing at Christmas and Easter – but eventually stopped doing that since it felt hypocritical. However, I silently speak with the Lord and Jesus Christ regularly – at times before bed, sometime in the car or while traveling on a plane. I do have hopes, dreams and wishes for myself, my children, my loved-ones. I try very hard to have faith in myself that I continue to raise my two children safely in this very frightening and dangerous world. I hope and pray that somehow they will be able to raise their own children one day in a world which hopefully will have learned some lessons from the past and changed it course not to repeat the fateful mistakes.
Life is filled with challenging moments. The holidays are a time when people are supposed to be happy; making it a thousand times harder for those who are not. The last eight years I have been divorced and forced to share time with my kids on holidays or not see them at all. The pain the first Christmas day that I had to say goodbye to them in the morning and watch them drive off with their father was agonizing for me. I felt like a part of me had been ripped away and I just wanted to cry all day and stay under the covers of my bed. Instead I was supposed to go to my parent’s house to share Christmas dinner with my parents, my siblings and their kids. It was awful. I think one holiday I actually did stay home and wallow in my self-pity. The rest, somehow I found the strength to join the festivities despite my broken heart. As the years have marched on holidays remain challenging, although each year a little less so. I have been blessed these last two years for I have been able to share them with my new love, my boyfriend, Mark.
Life goes on and time helps to heal most of the wounds which have been inflicted on us. The scars left on us by life should be worn on us with pride for they help make up who we are and how we came to be there. Some people’s scars are bigger than others and some may have wounds that never fully heal; for how can someone every fully heal from the lose of their own child?
It’s three days before Christmas and I will close my thoughts with a speech the Bishop gives to his congregation Christmas morning reminding us to remember what Christmas is all about.
Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.
Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries.We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.
But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. Its his birthday we’re celebrating. Don’t let us ever forget that.
Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shinning gifts that make peace on earth.
“A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” Winnie the Pooh Peace – Xine S.