To be a writer is to first be a listener and observer. I often go somewhere—a coffeeshop, a museum, a store—and just tune into the conversations of others. I don’t take out my phone or notebook. I don’t have any purpose other than to listen to what people say, how they say it, and then how people respond to them.
I tried this experiment recently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I went to their Astor Chinese Garden Court and sat there for a while as people wandered in and out. It’s a bright and peaceful place in the museum. Good for clearing the mind and opening up the ears.
It was fascinating to see such a diverse set of people come into the space and have a similar experience, of peace and contentment and happiness. It reminded me how hurried and cluttered our lives can become. And it made me more conscious of the power of places that give us time to just be. The expression of “wow” on everyone’s face when they entered the garden made me smile.
As we edge toward 2018 and the cold weather takes us indoors for a few months, I’m looking forward to more of these listening and observing activities. We have so much to learn from each other.
As a writer and business leader, I have one superpower: I’m a tremendous listener. I take in people’s stories and perspectives like I take in air. I listen for what’s said and what’s not said. I pay attention to body language, posture, tone of voice, emotion, and intonation. It’s a skill we don’t celebrate or value enough, and one we should all hone. I’ve found teachers, mentors, friends, and heroes by being a good listener. It’s an action that’s changed my life for the better, and one I’m proud to be able to do every day.
A few days ago, I mentioned that I was having trouble writing Emerson‘s second book. Last night, I just decided to tag along with her to see where she was going, what she was doing, and who she was with. I didn’t expect or ask for anything. I just stayed quiet and listened. I was helped by the idea of a dæmon in The Golden Compass; Lyra’s dæmon sometimes hitches a ride on her shoulder to join the adventure. I did the same with Emerson.
It’s odd what your characters will tell you when you just listen to them. I found out Emerson’s birthday is January 1st, that there are now hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people who are looking for the same treasure that she seeks, and that her travels take her not to one place in Book 2 but many places. There’s some romance, heartbreak, and loss. She will be plunged into memories she would rather not see but are vital to her pursuits and her destiny. There are portals hidden in plain sight. The line between the physical world and the world of the mind is blurred to the point where they’re really no different at all. Time and space are much more fluid than we imagine them to be.
So today, I’m putting my ear to the ground, closing my eyes, and listening intently to the adventures Emerson has taken. I imagine her now, much older and wiser, entertaining a woman (me) who just showed up at her door and asked to hear the story of her life. She has a lot to tell me. She just needs some time.
Sometimes the best we can do is just show up. For our friends and for ourselves. People go through tough times. They need support and help. And we do, too. I’ve been talking to quite a few people lately who are dealing with a lot of difficulty. I wish I had answers for them. Actually, I wish I could just make the difficulties disappear. I try. I listen, and I try to come up with creative solutions. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But I’m learning that the solutions aren’t the important part. What matters is that I show up, that I keep showing up. And if that’s all you do, too, that’s enough. It’s so much more than enough.
“If you let a person talk long enough you’ll hear their true intentions. Listen twice, speak once.” ~Tupac Shakur
Less than two months into my 2017 resolution to pause every day and really listen, I’ve learned a lot. Much more than I expected. It’s fascinating to hear what people really say, and what they don’t say. It’s surprising to me to hear the narrative that plays in my own head during certain situations. These days we are subjected to all kinds of glossy marketing, slick slogans, and catchy soundbites. To really see what’s going on, we have to take a step back. Maybe even a few steps back. Let things come into focus. Listen rather than waiting to speak.
People are very adept at elevator pitches. We’ve got biases, lens of experience that alter our point-of-view, and objectives. That’s part of being human and having this massive cerebral cortex. It’s a blessing and it’s also a curse; we often get in our own way. I’ve found the best way to combat this is to just stop and listen. It’s a highly under-rated and rare skill. Our society doesn’t reward it, but life in general does. When we listen, we make better decisions because we have richer information. When we listen, we increase our sense of focus because our perspective is more comprehensive. And this combination of information and perspective gives us the confidence to take action. The actions I’m going to take in 2017 are beginning to take shape. They’re exciting and a little bit scary, but I can handle it.
So far on my listening tour through 2017, that’s what I’ve got. I’m looking forward to what happens next.
In my reading yesterday I came across this quote: “Listen and silent are spelled with the same letters. Think about that.” I thought about how much we miss because we’re so busy having our say. This year as I’m pausing, I’m also making a concerted effort to listen more—to my own heart and to the hearts of others. There’s a lot of noise in the world, a lot of people crowing as loud as they can, as often as they can, about as much as they can. In a time like this, I’ve found a lot of comfort in some time set aside every day for silence and listening. Peace of mind, peace of body, peace of soul.
“When something feels off, it is.” ~Abraham Hicks
Listen. When you don’t know what to do, what to think, and what to feel, close your eyes and just listen. Deep down in that precious and powerful gut of yours, there is every answer you need. It may not be easy to hear and it may feel almost impossible to put into practice, but it’s the right move. Trust that above all else. Stop listening to what others think. Stop worrying about what they will think if you follow your intuition. This is your life and this is your time. You have to live with every consequence precipitated by your actions so take the actions that are right for you. Go in and listen, an you’ll always find yourself on the right path.