For three days last weekend, I was immersed in a warm bath of…well, to put it baldly, love. I was attending a residential workshop, and the theme of it was Being the Source of Love. For a whole weekend, I and another 60 or 70 participants got to look at the experience of love, at what gets in the way, and at what creates it.
To give you a taste: for some timeless spell, I sat snuggled in close to a new friend, looking straight at her and listening with all my being to what was happening in her world. My heart actually felt pulpy. And I had the thought, it doesn’t get any better than this. It wasn’t that either of us had anything life-altering to say—just that we were experiencing such a strong connection.
In this way, over the weekend I became more and more attuned to when I was experiencing love and when I wasn’t. When it was there, it manifested as a surge of connection—interest, appreciation, respect, aliveness. When it wasn’t—well, early in the workshop we undertook an ominous process exploring the question, “How do I take myself out of love?” Here’s where we came nose to nose with the messy business of actively choosing NOT to be in love. It took a while to get below the surface, but eventually we encountered a raft of ways in which we deliberately or accidentally take ourselves away from love.
The people in my workshop decided to create a post-course discussion group online to continue to share the things we notice about how we take ourselves out of love. The communications over this week have been rich in their sharing. Having expectations, someone says. Resentment. Stress. Being preoccupied with oneself. Other people’s anger. A feeling of injustice. Making assumptions. Feeling like the victim. Being judgmental. Over the week I’ve had a taste of my own version of all of these. It’s been humbling.
Of course, we also explored how we bring ourselves back to love. I came to see a lot of avenues, but here’s the one I most want to share with you: listening. I began to notice that when I most experience love is when I am listening. And being listened to. Times of communication, of connection.
I found when I was really listening, I put away my usual yardsticks for measuring success. I am quick to judge based on someone’s wisdom, choice of career, grooming, hobbies, interests, healthfulness. Now, figure this one out: every soul at that workshop was full of wisdom and lives an interesting life. What are the odds?! Admittedly these people might not have been a completely random selection of humanity, but the implication dawns on me that it’s not that all those people (amazingly) were lovable—but that for a whole weekend I was being loving.
Mostly what it took was listening.
You may have experienced workshops or seminars where the process is to respond to a question with a partner, where you each have a turn at speaking without comment or interruption, and correspondingly of listening. It’s not what we normally do in the real world, and when I think about it, I can’t for the life of me see why not. Why don’t I routinely just sit and listen for minutes at a time—without working out what I am going to say, without performing judgement on what’s being said, without figuring out how things relate to or reflect on me.
The parallel experience, of speaking, was just as profound. Not being involved in the cut and thrust of conversation, I found I looked deeply into myself to see what I could express that captured something real. I felt a sense of a deep respect for the person who was listening to me, and I wanted to lay nothing less than the truth at their feet. Connections SPARKED under those circumstances. Love was in the air.
We were treated to a quote from Alan Alda, which I now offer to you:
“The difference between listening and pretending to listen, I discovered, is enormous. One is fluid, the other is rigid. One is alive, the other is stuffed. Eventually, I found a radical way of thinking about listening. Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you. When I’m willing to let them change me, something happens between us that’s more interesting than a pair of dueling monologues.” (Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned)
I was in a casual conversation today with a number of people, where someone was speaking about an area of interest. It was a conversation I’d heard a number of times before, and I parked myself in the Pretending to Listen zone. Then I noticed someone else listening in the Alan Alda way—as if there was something deeply important that could be learned. The experience caught me off guard, and I decided to listen. It was transformative. I felt that strong sense of connection.
Fancy hanging on someone’s every word like my future depended on it. What if I listened to Rick that way? My family? My housemates? Old friends?
And why not? What else is there to do in the moment?
By the end of the weekend—not to mention after a full week since—I am present not just to love but to the other key word in the workshop’s title: source. “Being the SOURCE of love.”
Many times this week, I’ve found myself speaking and listening with a desire for connection. I have indeed listened to Rick (as he described finishing up the accounts for the year, for example) with as much appreciation as if we’d just fallen in love.
I’ve also noticed feeling bored, or guarded, or railroaded, or judgmental. But behind both ways of being, I’ve experienced being the SOURCE. And that’s the trick. I can be a victim of other people and of my circumstances (which = no love), or I can be the source of love. It’s a choice I have.
If I have love around, it’s because I put it there. And if not?—well!—I can bring it back.
What can you say?
Laughing and listening. They make a good start.