A few years ago, I realized that I was not participating in the meetings that I attended, effectively. I had an opinion about everything and wanted above all to be heard. I never seemed to leave an impression. Slowly I realized that most people were like me just talking at each other. It was a contest of who had the most clever things to say. No one was actually listening or processing since we were all thinking about what to say next. I read somewhere about the zen art of listening and decided to practice it. Every time I had an impulse I stopped and gave myself the cue to listen instead. Wow what a difference it made. The ego had been quieted. The speaker had my attention. I waited to offer my thoughts if they added value or were solicited. Miraculously I felt heard and found that I was effective.
I realize now that represents a microcosm of how the wise among us live.
They do not want to grasp, possess or change anything. They have no fear of losing anything – as life flows through them. Note this does not mean they don’t change things. Their very presence in a non-ego state does. But they wait for life to unfold, always attentive and observant. They wait for the right moment, to express a thought, write a piece, argue a point. There is no grand plan, no theories of conspiracy attributed to what others do, just attentive listening, engaged curiosity, without judgement and self-interest. This sounds like an easy thing to do – but is actually excruciating for the uninitiated and unpractised. We are so prone to reacting from deep conditioning and habit patterns. We make up plausible stories about why people speak or act a certain way and respond to those stories. We believe we have the license to make assumptions about everything. From this place of ignorance, we argue to prove a point or just to be contrarian, for the sake of intellectual jousting. We are so busy thinking up clever thoughts that we completely stop listening. We judge and lecture desperately wanting to change or influence the outcome! And when we don’t change things, we have a tantrum and are surprised!
I try to practice the zen art in my life and work. But, of course I slip and then wallow in deep regret.
Recently, someone close to me shared their fears and anxieties. I could have remained curious so they could open up some more and share and perhaps arrive at some strategies to cope as I gave them the silent space to self reflect. But no. Because of my need to make things right for them – a noble but misguided thought, I had to jump in offer my opinion on why they felt as they did and what they could do to correct it. Did I not see it coming that this individual would not want to speak to me about this matter anymore? Why then was I surprised?! Clearly that’s my blind spot – what’s yours?
Recommended reading on knowing your blind spots as a leader!