It is possible that anyone who has listened, really listened, knows that failure is unavoidable. Listening seems to stand out in relief, particularly during moments when it is not happening.
Even when we have dedicated ourselves to practicing the sacred art of listening, we learn deeply about this art when we have overstepped the bounds. Perhaps when we have listened so tenderly and longingly that we forgot about healthy boundaries, which is a moving target anyway. We’ve listened too long, as it were, and found ourselves in a predicament where we are in front of another whom we truly want to serve, but we’re suddenly past listening: we’re exhausted.
Only in retrospect do we learn boundaries. Perhaps it is only in retrospect that we truly learn anything, period. By overstepping boundaries, by going beyond the guidelines, by idealizing the martyr-all-giving-one, or a pride in imagining we can do what another might not be capable of…only to find… it doesn’t work. Or perhaps we’ve held back, not given of ourselves, only to discover later… we wish we had. Either way, we learn in retrospect. We learn by paying attention and by responding. And we do this over and over. And over again.
For years we have begun our Volunteers’ Monthly Meeting by sitting in silence (holding space), then going around the circle and introducing ourselves, sharing a listening experience, debriefing. It was understood that there was no crosstalk during this sharing.
I had fallen away from the practice of ‘no crosstalk.’ Recently, when a listener in the circle had a question about their listening practice, I responded to that concern. All in love, all in the desire to support listening. But… by answering questions instead of leaving the space for the listener who was questioning how, how, how to listen… I disrupted the very practice we gather to uphold.
Just today a dear friend, unaware that my failure to uphold the practice of ‘no crosstalk’ was heavy on my heart, offered me the poem by Machado de Assis below. By way of apology, I now offer it to you.
Last night as I lay sleeping, I dreamt
O, marvelous error–
That there was a beehive here inside my heart
And the golden bees were making white combs
And sweet honey from all my failures.
I look forward to everything that continues to unfold at the Listening Post and I offer my support and gratitude to those who practice this sacred art of listening at the LP and beyond. We learn how to listen by listening. We learn most poignantly… through those moments when we’ve failed to listen.
humbly, in gratitude, and ready to try again at our next meeting,