“We build on foundations we did not lay.
We warm ourselves at fires we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.
We drink from wells we did not dig.
We profit from persons we did not know.
We are ever bound in community."

Rev. Peter Raible (paraphrased from Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Practice of Listening and Slowing Down (aka: "Talking Chairs")

I ran into a friend yesterday in the parking lot of a local grocery store. I had just finished shopping (with lots of "shopping help" from our son!) and we trying to carry all the groceries to the car. Our friend gave us a hand, and on the way to the car, we were reflecting on how busy and harried so many of us feel, and how it's almost like a badge of honor to be busy (guilty as charged, at least some of the time!) We reflected on how wonderful it would be if we were able to shift things around in our lives so that we when someone asked, "How are you?" we might respond, "Fine. I've been really slow lately. Really slow."

That conversation reminded me of the importance of slowing down, and "letting our 'spirit' catch up with our bodies" (as an old mentor of mine once said.)

So this post is in that spirit of slowing down, in two parts: First, some 'slowdown' quotes that I find helpful and inspiring, and second, a sharing of a spiritual discipline my wife and I use in our relationship.

Quotes first. In her wonderful book, Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, 

Barbara Brown Taylor
“Like many ambitious people, I had developed a dependence on adrenaline. I could get so much done when my anxiety was in the red zone that I learned to live right on the edge of panic, in that optimum zone between alarm and collapse...and as long as I kept moving quickly, there was a great deal I did not have to feel. Sadness and loss were slow movers, along with bewilderment and doubt. Every time I heard them moving behind me, I put on a burst of speed.”
And this, from author Parker Palmer, along the same lines (from Let Your Life Speak): 
Parker Palmer
“The soul is like a wild animal...tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods, and sit patiently at the base of a tree, breathe with the earth, the creature we are waiting for may emerge..."
Both Barbara Brown Taylor and Parker Palmer are talking about slowing down, and making room for our inner life, our spirit, our "real" self to emerge...and be known, seen, heard, by another.

Here's a "slow down/get real" practice my wife and I use. We call it "talking chairs." And on a regular basis, we make time to sit down in our "talking chairs." It really doesn't have to be chairs, it could be the couch; but here's how it works: essentially, we sit across from each other, and give each other uninterrupted time to "check in." One person talks at a time. And there's no agenda other than letting that person talk about whatever is on their heart and mind; it might be about our relationship, parenting, our families, some grief we're carrying, or resentment; it might be things we want to apologize for, dreams that might just be starting to take shape that we want to talk about...or anything else.

The one who is talking has all the space and time they need to talk; the job of the other person in the chair (or one the couch) is simply to listen without interrupting. We try to leave room for lots of silence, because the soul is like a wild animal. It takes a while to emerge, to show up. It takes time to find the words to express what we're feeling, or to find the words for gratitude. (And it is crazy-wild how much of a backlog of stuff can get stored up, stuffed down, ignored...that will come out in a good talking "chair session.")

We don't do this "talking chair" thing perfectly, but we've learned that when we're busy, or stressed, or just feeling "off," or the world seems to be going crazy, we probably need to sit in the "talking chairs," open our hearts to one another, listen deeply, speak honestly, and slow down just enough to really reconnect with one another and clear the brush out of the way. Even if we thought we had nothing to check in about, by the end of our deep listening, our hearts feel lighter and laughter comes more easily.


How do you sustain and strengthen your key relationships? Do you have an equivalent to a "talking chair" process? What other practices do you have?


Justin Schroeder said...

If you're interested, I reflect on "talking chairs," among other things, in a sermon I preached last January. You can listen here: http://firstuniv.podbean.com/2011/01/11/2011-01-09-rev-justin-schroederinside-out/ - Justin

Papa Mike said...

Thanks for the reminder. I'm working diligently at changing my inner voice from "this isn't done, that's not done, people are going to think ___" to "I am not my unmowed lawn". It's not easy.

Also don't think it is coincidence that twice in 24 hours someone has mentioned to me Parker Palmer. Guess the universe is telling me I'm ready to listen to him - is there a work of his you think I should start with?

Justin Schroeder said...

@ Papa Mike: I'd start with Let Your Life Speak. It's a short read, but you can read it again and again. - Justin

afreefaith said...

I just read Let Your Life Speak. Indeed, it's sitting on the arm of the couch right now. My wife and I don't have a formal practice, but we do this regularly. I had never thought of it in quite the way you described it, but it works the same way. We often do this at night in bed before we go to sleep.