I have a weekly ritual these days… Once each week I log into our scheduler and delete the shifts scheduled for the next 7 days out. On the surface, this is not exactly what I’d desire to be doing. There is a bright side, though. Each week there have been scheduled shifts there to cancel. Let that sink in: the LP paused its service 72 days ago and volunteers still put their names on our calendar of shifts.
The fact that our volunteers have scheduled their shifts in advance, or perhaps have their own ritual of still signing up for shifts, is a big part of what makes the Listening Post volunteers stand out. I get to see it, week after week even during ‘these challenging times.’ The Listening Post volunteers are committed and willing to listen, though it is true that we don’t yet have a way to implement our service during this time. And still, our listeners are scheduling shifts.
The Listening Post, since its inception, has been populated by a unique group of folks. Those individuals called to listen seem to have a rather noticeable capacity for compassionate commitment.
Or maybe the qualities witnessed in the LP volunteers aren’t that unusual.
As listeners we extend our respect to anyone who comes to us for a listening ear and we trust that the wisdom they need is already in their own heart. We listen so that they can hear themselves. Through the years of serving from these standards, Listening Post volunteers have experienced and shared countless stories of the good heartedness we’ve clearly seen in others. And the ‘others’ we often listen to are people who have fallen through the cracks, been marginalized, even feared by our society: people experiencing homelessness; people with mental illness; people with chronic substance abuse issues; people who have been in and out of jail, repeatedly. The point being, we’ve seen truth and goodness, kindness and generosity, integrity and good humor – the list goes on – in everyone. You don’t have to be special to be good. You can be a mess… and still be good. We’ve seen it.
Perhaps the Listening Post has given us a container through which we can see what is only natural. The exemplary behavior I witness in the volunteers might just be the ordinary goodness of a human heart and the organization and structure of the Listening Post allows the beauty of the heart’s natural gifts to be accessed and to flow in guests and listeners alike.
A container, that is how I experience ritual. The details of a ritual, in and of themselves, aren’t magical, nor do they cause something to happen. A ritual might be thought of as a container or lens we use to allow ourselves to focus on what is naturally occurring yet has been occluded by our habitual way of living.
To allow ‘cancelling’ listening shifts to be a ritual is a way to honor the amazing gifts that the LP volunteers offer. I haven’t just cancelled all of the scheduled shifts, even though it might be practical to do so during these ongoing days of Covid 19. I only cancel shifts one week at a time. It’s a ritual of generously leaving anything scheduled beyond this week in place, a ritual of trust that we will be able to return to our face to face listening service. It is a practice and ritual of healthy hope.
And yet, the cancellations are real. We aren’t serving in our familiar, face to face, capacity. We are developing our pilot program for online listening. It is, though, slow going with a steep learning curve.
And so we listeners wait.
And those in need of a listening ear wait.
As listeners, we have inquired into the art of waiting. Though I’ve only recently posted this letter, back in late 2017 the LP volunteers came to a very clear understanding of the value of waiting. Waiting, we experienced directly in our listening practice, can be another term for ‘being present with another.’ Even more specifically, waiting/being present implied not having any expectations.
Listening Post volunteers, and anyone who practices the sacred art of listening, engage with what can be called a ritual of waiting.
We can expand our inquiry into waiting. While the value of waiting is palpable when we are present with another, what is the value of waiting during these times of the wisdom to maintain social distancing, zoom meetings, plastic barriers, and face masks? Does letting go of our expectations – something we do when we are paying attention to anyone we listen to – still apply when we are separated from serving directly as listeners/life as we have come to know it? Does it apply when we haven’t chosen any of this?
The photo with today’s letter might be bleak or intriguing. It might be both at the same time. If it is assumed that the fellow depicted would prefer something other than what he’s doing, bleakness seems believable enough. Downright depressing, this photo is. But if what is being depicted is a ritual, then what?
What do you see when you take a moment to look through the lens of something other than your preferences? That is what a ritual can offer. How do you wait?
I’d really like to know. I’m still listening through these correspondences.
And, by the way, I do think the LP volunteers are quite exceptional, all my thanks to them and you,