How to Listen to People

How often do you meet someone who hears you?  Who listens and focuses on you long enough to grasp what it is that you are going through or trying to say?  And isn’t it a shock when you actually meet someone who stops and listens to what you have to say.  Who makes an effort to understand you, even if it is hard to do, and who tells you, silently, “you matter”?

If you find a person who listens to you, who really takes the time to pause and pay attention to what you are saying, who makes you feel as though you matter in the world, treasure that person as a gift from the heavens.  He or she is not a gift from the heavens, of course, but rather simply another human being in one place at one time.  Mortal.  Fragile.  Fallible.  But infinitely valuable and good.

And if you know someone who is mortal, fragile, and fallible, but infinitely valuable and good, then by all means tell them how much you appreciate them by listening to them.  Don’t interrupt, don’t judge, don’t advise.  Don’t tell stories about yourself that their experience brings to mind.  Don’t blurt out the first thing that comes to your mouth, but hold it, and pause, and say to yourself, “O, I am thinking x and wanting to say it.”  And then go back to listening to the person you are listening to.

You must go at it with your whole heart, with a genuine yearning to understand, to hear, to learn about the other person.  You must be patient with your impatience, and resist the urge to speak.  You must let go of your needs for the time being, and become present, awake, and attentive, to the person you love.  Because you love them you want to hear them.

You want to hear them.  But you haven’t yet had the patience to hear them, not really.   They have even complained, “you don’t listen to me!  You never listen to me!”  Stinging words.  But it is okay.  You are allowed to be imperfect. Forgive yourself, maybe by putting a hand on your heart and murmuring silently, “forgiven, forgiven.”  Recognize what you are feeling, accept what is and treat yourself with kindness.  Only by accepting and loving ourselves can we accept and love others.

Sometimes we are unable to listen, to hear others because we ourselves are so nervous, so relentlessly anxious that we can’t stop the chattering egotism of our own minds.   We can become so guarded, so continually on the watch for attack that we lose the ability to pause and listen curiously and patiently and compassionately to someone who needs us to hear them, and to whom we want to listen.  To listen is to love, to love ourselves and the person to whom we are listening.

Nervousness is just a habit.  If we can never completely unlearn it we can at least try to become aware of it as an habitual, emotional response to a thought, or an habitual, cognitive response to an emotion.   Emotions are okay.  They are real.  Sometimes they are responses to thoughts that may seem to be true but are not really quite right.  We don’t even need to figure out where the train of thoughts and emotions took off from or seems to be going.  We can simply acknowledge that we are “thinking” and, again and again, return to our breath and our hearts and the loving activity of listening.

The War on Critical Thought During the Most Dangerous Period of the 21st Century

resistance women's march

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. …This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

–Fredrick Douglass

Henry A. Giroux looks to Frederick Douglass, Hannah Arendt, Chris Hedges, Christine Clement and Michael Lerner in a recent Tikkun editoral that everyone should read.  We are living in an extremely dangerous moment of history, in which a group of mostly White masculinists are assailing hard-won civil liberties:

Trump is the fascist shadow that has been lurking in the dark since Nixon’s Southern Strategy. Authoritarianism has now become viral in America, pursuing new avenues to spread its toxic ideology of bigotry, cruelty, and greed into every facet of society. Its legions of “alt-right” racists, misogynists, and xenophobic hate-mongers now expose themselves publicly, without apology, knowing full well that they no longer have to use code for their hatred of all those who do not fit into their white-supremacist and ultra-nationalist script.

Not simply economic betrayal, but also ideological white-washing has brought us to tis point.  Oppressive institutions and power structures oppress by enforcing collective amnesia, a forgetting of the past and by undercutting critical thinking:

Manufactured ignorance erases histories of repression, exploitation, and revolts. What is left is a space of fabricated absences that makes it easy, if not convenient, to forget that Trump is not some eccentric clown offered up to the American polity through the deadening influence of celebrity and consumer culture. State and corporate sponsored ignorance produced primarily through the disimagination machines of the mainstream media and public relations industries in diverse forms now function chiefly to erase selected elements of history, disdain critical thought, reduce dissent to a species of fake news, and undermine the social imagination. How else to explain the recent Arkansas legislator who is pushing legislation to ban the works of the late historian Howard Zinn? How else to explain a culture awash in game shows and Realty TV programs? How else to explain the aggressive attack by extremists in both political parties on public and higher education? Whitewashing history is an urgent matter, especially for the Trump administration, which has brought a number of white supremacists to the center of power in the United States

When we forget the violence and betrayals of the past, the public is more likely to swallow the toxic pablum that justifies ongoing violence against those who are not dominant.  By eroding educational traditions that encourage critical thought, those in power undercut the public’s ability to resist injustice.

The revival of historical memory as a central political strategy is crucial today given that Trump’s white supremacist policies not only echo elements of a fascist past, they also point to the need to recognize as Paul Gilroy has observed “how elements of fascism appear in new forms,” especially as “the living memory of the fascist period fades.”

Ideological violence–perpetuated by a massive machinery that wipes our memories of what has been done to us, and those like us, in the past–keeps us down because it makes us much more willing to shrug our shoulders and accept discrimination, wage slavery, unfair and deliberately misleading banking and loan policies, excessively expensive health care, the erosion of public schools, police brutality, and rampant, domestic, ecclesiastical and gendered rape and torture.   We are conditioned to accept these forms of violence because through a symbolic, or ideological, violence, that preaches to us that things have always been this way and always will be.  Erasing our memory of the past is crucial to this violence.

But the Republicans are not solely responsible for selling us all down the river and telling us that it is the way of the world.  Democrats, too, have betrayed us:

Trump’s unapologetic authoritarianism has prompted Democratic Party members and the liberal elite to position themselves as the only model of organized resistance in such dark times. It is difficult not to see such moral outrage and faux pas resistance as both comedic and hypocritical in light of these centrist liberals have played in the last forty years–subverting democracy and throwing minorities of class and color under the bus. As Jeffrey St. Clair observes, “Trump’s nominal opponents,” the Democrats Party are “encased in the fatal amber of their neoliberalism” and they are part of the problem and not the solution. Rather than face up to their sordid history of ignoring the needs of workers, young people, and minorities of class and color, the Democratic Party acts as if their embrace of a variety of neoliberal political and economic policies along with their support of a perpetual war machine had nothing to do with paving the way for the election of Donald Trump.

We can do something to create a more just society.  We must actively remember the past and critique the present.  Only by doing so can we resist what Giroux calls “the armed ignorance of the Trump disimagination machine.”

While such knowledge is the precondition for militant resistance, it is not enough. A critical consciousness is the precondition of struggle but is only the starting point for resistance. What is also needed is a bold strategy and social movement capable of shutting down this neo-fascist political machine at all levels of government through general strikes, constant occupation of the political spaces and public spheres under the control of the new authoritarians, and the creation of an endless wave of educational strategies and demonstrations that make clear and hold accountable the different ideological, material, psychological, and economic registers of fascism at work in American society. This is a time to study, engage in critical dialogues, develop new educational sites, support and expand the alternative media, and fight back collectively. It will not be easy to turn the tide, but it can happen, and there are historical precedents.

Giroux calls for a paradigm shift that will come about when the very people whose labor and passivity keep the power structures intact begin to think for themselves and resist.

This would also suggest building up unions again and putting their control in the hands of workers; working to build sanctuary cities and institutions that would protect those considered the enemies of white supremacy – immigrants, Muslims, Blacks, and those others considered disposable. Politics has to be revived at the local and state levels, especially given the control of 56 percent of state legislatures by right-wing Republicans. There is also a need to make education central to the formation and expansion of study groups throughout the country and to further a public pedagogy of justice and democracy through the alternative media and when possible in the mainstream media.

The dominant powers in society repress people through various material strategies–housing, wages, access to healthcare–but also through ideological and psychological strategies.

While it is crucial to address the dramatic shifts economically and politically that have produced enormous anger and frustration in American society, it is also important to address the accompanying existential crisis that has destroyed the self-esteem, identity, and hopes of those considered disposable and those whom Hillary Clinton shamelessly called a “basket of deplorables.” The ideological mix of untrammeled individualism, self-reliance, a culture of fear, and a war against all ethic has produced both a profound sense of precarity and hopelessness among not only immigrants, poor people of color, but also among working class whites who feel crushed by the economy and threatened by those deemed other as well as demeaned by so called elites.

It is not enough simply to point and complain at the ways the powers that be have enervated and disabled us.  Learning from the past, we need to produce new visions of egalitarianism and prosperity.  This will involve weaning ourselves from the mythologies of neoliberalism.

 As Michael Lerner insightfully observes, rather than engaging in a politics of shaming, progressives have to produce a discourse in which people can recognize their problems and the actual conditions that produce them. This is not just a political but a pedagogical challenge in which education becomes central to any viable notion of resistance. Making education central to politics means the left will have to remove itself from the discourse of meritocracy that often is used to dismiss and write off those who hold conservative, if not reactionary, views.

Progressives need to transcend the smug, self-congratulatory discourse of shaming and engage in the ” hard political and pedagogical work of changing consciousness, producing new modes of identity, desires, and values conducive to a democracy.”  Theroux continues,

Resistance will not be easy and has to take place on multiple fronts while at the same time enabling a view of politics that understands how a new class of financial scavengers operates in the free flow of a global space that has no national allegiances, no respect for the social contract, and exhibit a degree of power that is unparalleled in its ability to exploit, produce massive inequality, destroy the planet, and accelerate human suffering across and within national boundaries. Resistance is no longer an option, it is now a matter of life or death. The lights are going out on democracy across the globe and the time to wake up from this nightmare is now. There are no guarantees in politics, but there is no politics that matters without hope, that is, educated hope.

Depression

is the worst of maladies.  It rips your heart out and leaves you breathless, exhausted, wasted, denuded.  Your skin comes off and all your nerves get exposed, and you weep for no reason that you can explain to anyone, and no one cares, anyway. Depression makes you irritable and cranky and bad-tempered with everyone you know.  The smallest things get under your skin, which isn’t there, so the smallest thing gets under your nerves and rubs them with salt so that you feel like screaming. There that, the endless and incomprehensible desire to scream your head off and, failing that, which you do, of course, because you fail at everything, you collapse into crying and self-loathing. Depression chains you to your bed or your chair or your corner, and if you manage to get up and walk around depressed, the chains drag and mossy anchors drag you back.  You think about drowning.  You long for death, to sink into the muck, the brown brownness of it, to bury your face into its dirty mess, your own dirty mess of self.  You argue and blame and shout at people and feel furious with them for not understanding and stopping to throw their arms around you, kiss you, and hold you until the tears stop.  The tears you fear will never end. But depression makes you monstrous and no one wants to kiss or hold a monster, so you carry on behaving monstrously, miserably alone, misunderstood, mistaken, misplaced, missed.  Me miserable, which way I fly infinite wrath and infinite despair.  You think you are going insane.  You don’t trust yourself.  You have no one but yourself to trust and so you fall into the lower deep that devours you. Depression confuses the mind and wrings the hands, it stammers the mouth and removes choices.  It unfurls the mind, turning it against itself, dissolves the skeleton, hunches the back against the stairs uncomfortably.  No comfort in the mind shut down and the body broken.  They call depression a disorder.  It is disorganized, chaotic, stormy, an attack, a tornado, a tidal wave of sadness, and it hurts.  It burns the eyes, scorches the throat, stops up the nose and ears and painfully overstimulates every nerve in the body while simultaneously deadening everything, so that you move, if you can move, through the world muffled, muted, deafened, dulled, retarded, defeated, deflated.  It washes you up on unfamiliar shores, it abandons you, wrecks you, dashes you, destroys you.  Do not underestimate this affliction.

Day 2 of Being Present

It’s raining and dreary, so I decided to stay home instead of stumble through the Ashtanga class I thought I would go to.  I rolled out my mat in my own studio/office and put on a new playlist and moved through as many of the postures as seemed sensible.  For the past 12 months or so, I have been going to various physical therapists who have instructed me to avoid yoga. Well, actually, the first guy told me to avoid forward bends, and the second woman said to avoid backbends, so I stopped feeling confident in my body altogether.

Last week I went to an Ashtanga class (the one I avoided tonight).  I felt I had aged ten years.  My arms buckled in chatturanga and I could no longer squeeze myself into any kind of bind.   Humbling.

I teach a Trauma-focused yoga class to women in therapy at a community health center every week, and there I tell them to pay attention to what they feel in their bodies, and to make choices based on what they are feeling.  I’ve decided to practice what I’m preaching and spend a few minutes each day writing about it.

Things I noticed today: my stomach feels bulky and heavy and in the way.  My neck feels tight when I bring my ear to my shoulders.  I clench my teeth.  I felt angry today, not irritable, but appropriately angry, I thought.  A co-worker was rude and unkind to me.  Another challenged my judgment.  My back went up.  I’ve been carrying anger around in my belly and my neck.

It was surprisingly lovely to arrive in my body during sivasana, to dwell in my awareness of  the sweat cooling my forehead and chest, my lumbar spine and hips settling down towards the floor, my abdomen resting as my heart slowed down, the sound of my breath and a quiet, soothing swishing sound filling my ears.  It was surprisingly difficult to stay there, to remain simply in being.

Nina Simone

Listening to Nina Simone, who was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon.  The great civil rights advocate and musician inspires me.  One of my clients looks like her.  Hard to say whose history is harder.  The woman I know remembers her father holding a gun to her mother’s head.  She suffers from complex trauma, a syndrome unrecognized by the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  She trust no one, certainly not me.

Nina_Simone_1965 (1)

Take the Taco or Beer Challenge

Are you a woman?  Do you love someone who is female?  Do you believe you have or she has the right to her own body and mind? Do you like tacos or beer?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, please support this campaign to give women more control over their own destinies: Taco or Beer Challenge.  It’s a heck of a lot more fun that dumping ice on your head. Tacos-Beer-Abortion_014258285620

This morning I donated money to Trust Women Foundation through this campaign.   Check out some videos of other like-minded here.

BTW, I don’t like all the F-bombs in the subsequent blurb, but the cause is good.  Please check it out.  Taco or Beer Challenge.

Or simply donate to this excellent cause: TRUST WOMEN.

10 good reasons not to call your ex

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Roxane Robitaille, a wise couples therapist, has the following advice for those who are going through a hard time after a breakup.     I found the following very helpful:

Some years ago, I went through a difficult break-up. When my relationship came to an end, one of the most difficult things for me was deciding whether or not to call him back. I have to come clean and admit I did call him, many times (sigh). Unfortunately, these phone calls never went the way I wished they would go. Being a professional on-again off –again couple we went back and forth for months. I knew deep down that the relationship was making me miserable, yet I wanted to “fix” it, cause no one likes to feel miserable right? These phone calls sometimes lead to more sadness; they sometimes lead us to seeing each other again for a short while. As you read the following, ask yourself why you want to be in a relationship. Is it because you want to have children? Is it because you’re afraid of being alone? Well, think about this, the on-again off-again relationship is very likely to be nothing but a waste of your precious time, time you could be spending taking care of you and feeling ready to meet someone who sees just how fabulous you are. If you do want to have children, do you want to be with a partner like this one? A partner who left you for reasons you don’t really understand, a partner who makes you the future-mom-to-be feel less than amazing, a partner who doesn’t accept and love everything about you and wants you to change, a partner whom you want to change? If things do get patched up between the two of you, are you going to be sitting right back here in 6 months? In a year? Don’t call him babe.

1. You should feel desired and confident. I’m guessing that if you’re reading an article about why not to call your ex it’s not because you’re feeling like an energized, gorgeous, popular and desired person. You feel rejected and you want that feeling to go away. So you think about calling him back and smoothing things over. But calling him will inevitably make you feel worse.

2. You might make things worse. Are you feeling angry at him right now? Are you feeling vulnerable and lonely? You might blow up at him like a crazy-lady or you might end up crying and pleading on the phone for him to take you back. In either case, not a good situation (I am speaking from personal experience here, unfortunately). Do you really want to convince him to be with you? Argue him into taking you back? Plead yourself back into this relationship? Why should you convince anyone to be with you? You’re amazing!

3. What if he doesn’t answer? He has caller-ID doesn’t he? He’ll see that you’ve called. Are you going to call back in 5 minutes? In an hour? Tomorrow? Are you going to leave a message? What if he doesn’t call you back? You’ll be sitting there wondering why he’s not calling you back. And you’ll sit there, like I did, doubting yourself because you ex is not calling you back. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be frantically looking at your phone every 10 minutes to see whether you have any missed calls or missed messages. Here’s an idea: turn the phone off. You can do it. When you turn off your phone, you are taking back control and not letting yourself become obsessed with him his call. Free yourself from the phone and decide that for now you have better things to do than sit by the phone and wait for him to call you.

4. And if he answers? He might be busy and hang up in haste. Or he might not be so hot about hearing your voice on the line. But what if the convo goes well? Well honey, even if the conversation goes well, and he’s not likely to cry out: “oh baby, I’m so glad you called, I’m sorry I dumped you, let’s get back together!” And I’m sure anything less than that would be disappointing to you. Right? You’ll be hanging up sad, disappointed or angry.

5. You might end up in bed. If he does want to see you after he’s dumped you, and he’s happy to come over and hang out with you, he might want sex. That may feel nice for you as well, because let’s face it, our exes are our most intimate partners. It’s also the easiest person to sleep with after a breakup. You might feel connected for a short while, but honey this guy dumped you (cheated on you, didn’t want to get married to you, didn’t listen to you, didn’t spend enough time with you, didn’t make you feel like your best self, deceived you…) so why are you having sex with him? Although, you are a hot mamacita, your lover should see way more in you than your hot physical looks.

6. He’s not the one calling you. If your ex wanted to get you back and was madly in love with you, he would let you know. He would cross all bridges and climb all mountains to get to you. So let him call you and let him prove to you that he deserves to be with hotty such as yourself. Be strong. Don’t give-in. Think highly of yourself. Don’t sell yourself cheaply. And don’t call him back. Let him come back to you if that is what’s in the cards for you. Think that you are worthy of a man coming back to you with flowers and sweeping you off your feet.

7. Is he that great anyways? Even though he might have left you, and even though he may very well have been a super-stand-up guy, he wasn’t perfect either right? I mean, he dumped you, so there’s obviously is something wrong with him! He couldn’t appreciate what a prize you truly are.

8. There’s someone better for you out there. You know this is true (I hope). Right now it just feels like you might be alone forever. You might get caught up in the false beliefs that all good guys are taken and that it’s hard to meet someone. Those kinds of thoughts only make you feel more desperate and make you think you’d better hang on to this one. Well, no. I’m not having it. There are plenty of really good guys (good looking ones too!) out there who would feel happy to call you every day and spend time building a relationship with you. Imagine what your perfect relationship would feel like. Now multiply that by 10 and that’s what’s out there waiting for you right now. So turn off the phone, get out there in the world and open yourself up the possibilities that are all around you. Try to going out anywhere, to the supermarket, to a coffee shop, to the pet-store, anywhere, and smile at people. Just smile. Smile at men, smile at women, smile at kids, smile at the elderly. People will smile back at you. Now how good does that feel? There are plenty of people out there you can easily engage with just by smiling. Get out of your sweat-pants and go out and smile at people. Start to feel it IS true: there is someone better for you out there.

9. You’re not taking advantage of your time alone. When relationships end, we are left with a whole lot of extra free time. Time that used to be spend on doing fun activities together, time shared having meals and interesting conversations together. But wait! You are still a fun-loving, interesting person! Take advantage of this time to get to know yourself, to heal your vulnerable heart, and to love yourself. Do some of the things you like, surround yourself with people who care about you, call a friend. Take out your agenda and try to schedule fun things for yourself for the night, for the weekend etc. If you know in advance how you are going to fill your time, you’re not going to feel so obsessed with calling him because you’re going to be busy (and happy hopefully!). I know this is going to sound unoriginal, but look at the breakup as a time to re-evaluate your life. Take it as an experience in personal growth. There is nothing more attractive than a woman who is confident and happy with herself!

10. You are meant to have and enjoy a wonderful life. All aspects of your life are meant to lift you up and make you feel good about yourself. You don’t need to wait around for another person to give you what you need. How can you make yourself feel more wanted and secure? As a friend once told me, bees are naturally attracted to a piece of sugar. Sugar doesn’t have to do anything except being its sweet self, and all the bees want to be around it. So go ahead honey, make yourself feel well, beautiful and happy, that’s really all you have to do to attract to you the perfect partner, and a wonderful happy life.

The Beauty of Being Very Quiet

Hendrick Jansz ter Brugghen (or Terbrugghen) (1588 – 1629) Old Man Writing

When I was six or seven, my parents went on vacation and left my brother and me with the German ironing lady and her husband, neither of whom spoke English.  We lived in Augsburg then, on an army base, and employed a local woman to wash, fold, and iron our clothes.  She also served as a babysitter from time to time.

man-writing-with-quill-pen

The ironing lady and her husband were elderly and unaccustomed to rambunctious children.  They lived in a small apartment stuffed with large, dark, polished wooden furniture.   One day I was sitting at the dining table with the ironing lady’s husband, who was writing something with a fountain pen.  I am not sure how it happened, but my brother was probably napping and I had decided to be both very quiet and very alert.  I became utterly absorbed in the experience of listening to the sound of the pen scratching on the parchment, gazing at the old man’s mild face, and sensing my slight weight on the chair in the atmosphere of that cozy, small space.  I tasted the flavor of the air, smelled the ink and the old man and the wood and the carpet, and felt a thrilling, exquisite pleasure of curiosity about everything that I was sensing from moment to moment, second to second.

I did not want it ever to end, and sat utterly still, rapt in what I knew to be both profound and ordinary.  It was the first time in my life that I realized that simply sitting and paying attention could be enjoyable.  It was so easy to be patient, so wonderful and beautiful to experience watching and listening.  I felt as though there was a powerful, fragile tension between myself and the old man, and that my very stillness and quietness was part of his writing and thinking and breathing there, across the table from me, the table that I could barely see over, as though in that room at that moment a fantastic energy sprang alive and palpable and real and exciting.

This was a moment of what is called Abhyasa,  in the Sütras of Pantanjali.    Abhyasa might be described as a measured, calm, yet determined intention to pay attention to what is, as opposed to a wild, rushing and blasting and pushing energy, or the reckless passion with which, for example, a warrior flies into battle, or an athlete dedicates all her energy and power to winning a match or scaling a steep hill.  Abhyasa is experience without reaction, awareness without judgment, perception without response.

As I sat with the old man writing, I was stirred, but not stirred into any response other than observing his movements as something to observe.  I liked the activity of observation, and became, later, attached to the pleasure I remembered having during this moment.  This attachment, of course, became a source of suffering because it was something that I could not will into being, and had to wait for.

Dhammapada, 1:1-2

All experience is preceded by mind,

Led by mind,

Made by mind.

Speak or act with a corrupted mind,

And suffering follows

As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,

Led my mind,

Made by mind

Speak or act with a peaceful mind,

And happiness follows

Like a never-departing shadow.

Buddha, Dhamapada  1:1-2

The first verses of the Dhammapada remind us to guide our thinking, because our thoughts inform our experience.  Everything that we go through, every event, we interpret with our minds.  But experience also has a way of shaping the way we interpret our experiences.  The families into which we were born, the people and cultures that shaped us, inform our minds, the ways we see the world.  So, for example, a child who is mistreated from the moment she is born,who is told that she is worthless and stupid and incompetent, nothing more than a thing to be used by others, is likely to grow up with a false understanding of herself.  She will not know her true nature as a being of light and beauty, deserving of all love.  She will have a corrupted mind, and suffering will follow her.

The wonderful knowledge that the Buddha offers to us here is this: no matter what has happened to us, no matter how corrupted our ways of understanding the world have been, each one of us has the freedom and the power to learn, through practice, to step aside, as it were, from the false, corrupt thoughts that have been imbued in us, and to have a “peaceful mind.” This is the only path to lasting happiness.