I’ve been thinking about what to share with you all in terms of what has been on my mind (mainly: why so rushed?), and suddenly this lyric from Vanilla Ice popped into my head. I giggled at the sheer ridiculousness for a moment and then paused. It’s actually not bad advice if we take it completely out of context. So for a lesson using bad “hip hop” to discuss real life topics, I decided to do just that.
We rush around so much of the time. I catch myself running from class to class to home to class to a “very important meeting” and back home again, all while staring at my phone email, texts and social media streams between stops. Sound familiar? Does this actually feel good or skillful to anyone? What would happen if you just stopped rushing? Stopped texting while walking, stopped needing to be turned on all the time? What if you gave yourself more time to see what is around you, to slow down and look at the human being who is taking your money at the coffee shop? Louis C.K. pointed to this growing dependency recently on Conan O'Brien, and it resonated so deeply with me. We are immensely connected all the time to a piece of plastic and metal… What happens if we put it down?
Recently I created some real space around technology with the help of a mentor and friend (and also the immense help of my partner), and the shift has been phenomenal… I recognized how quickly I was starting my day by checking my phone before I ever even gave myself space to be or wake UP. in a little over a month’s time, I have been *mostly* successful at reducing my overall phone use and most importantly for me, have made a large gap between personal practice and technology. And what a difference it has made.
We are so often in our personal and social bubbles, we forget to see the world around us and the simple compassion and wisdom that arises from the humamity of clear seeing. How often do we stop seeing the person next to us getting on the subway or turning left in the car in front of us and instead make them an obstacle that is only in OUR way? What would happen if we instead considered our interactions with other strangers a grand collaboration toward each of our human goals?
A teacher posed this question recently in a talk. We see one another so often as part of the problem and an obstacle to be overcome… what if we changed our viewpoint and instead first saw their basic humanity and inherent qualities of brilliance, tenderness and vulnerability? What if we stopped putting so much emphasis on “me vs you” and changed it to a “we vs no one”. I used to think this sounded so idyllic and unattainable, but it’s not. There is plenty in the world that I don’t agree with, that rocks me to the core with pain and a broken heart. However, it can soften us a great deal to simply see that each person we believe we are at odds with also has the same suffering, the same desire to be happy that is, at its essence, simple and pure.
I’ll give you an example.
Recently I was in a beautiful place in Costa Rica and was able to see the arrival of thousands of endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles arriving to the Pacific shore to lay their eggs and return to sea. Early one morning after we saw the “arribada” we saw a lone turtle track from a GIANT leatherback turtle on the beach near where we were staying (not the arribada beach). The leatherback is the most endangered sea turtle of all. It was such a big track that we thought it could only have come from some great machine at first before we realized what it really was. When we went up to get a closer look, we saw the nest had been dug up and all the eggs taken. I was literally sick with heartbreak. How would this majestic animal ever survive if the eggs were all being taken?
The following morning we saw a man with a pack of about seven dogs picking up trash on the beach. As we played in the waves that dawn, we turned and realized that he was digging the nest of another turtle who had come to lay its eggs on the beach. We realized it was he who was taking all the eggs. We paused for a minute to consider whether we should say something, but I quickly realized there was no place for that conversation from a “we vs him” standpoint. I said to my boyfriend, Matthias, “Maybe he’s hungry, maybe he needs the money or to feed his dogs”… and in that moment we realized that we also had to see his own suffering or pain and know that it was no different from the heartache we felt at seeing the turtle’s eggs gone forever.
Collaborating on a basic human level is not easy. We all have so many beliefs painting our vision, and it is important to have things we believe in so that we can aspire to make the world a better place. But when we are faced with seemingly different ideas, it is also absolutely essential that we learn to interact skillfully on an interpersonal, cultural and global scale and see our collective humanity before we chalk the other person or group off as being completely other.
We all have a million conversations going on, through email, text, twitter, FaceBook, voicemail (and if we’re lucky in person). And it’s a good day if we pay more than half of our actual attention to any particular exchange we make. What would happen if we actually gave each of these conversations our full attention? Would we run out of time or would we be able to accomplish much more with evermore skill by being present with those conversations? What happens when you really listen to someone? How does it feel to be truly listened to?
One of things I love and hate about some of the dharma classes I attend is a conversation we are asked to have, called a diad. In these diads, we are asked to speak on a certain topic with a partner while they work to listen with as much attention and mindfulness as possible. Then we switch. Every time we are asked to find a partner, I grimace a little on the inside: “Do I HAVE to do this?” But once we start I realize how powerful it is to actually listen to someone and to be listened to.
When was the last time you were really listened to? How often do you catch yourself doing something else while you are being asked to listen? I have been catching myself quite a lot, and when I do notice, I have been mustering up the courage (most of the time) to give the conversation my full attention. Even when it’s on email or text, especially if there is an emotional tone or content. If I can’t hear someone fully in a given moment and it is quite emotional, I try to come back and read again or speak again at a time when I feel more available.
It can feel uncomfortable at first to really hear someone out, but it is an incredible gift that we give to both the speaker and to ourselves. I invite you to try listening with more attention next time you notice yourself distracted or your mind not fully engaged. Notice the moments where you feel disconnected or quick to jump in with your own thought or story or opinion. Notice how it affects the conversation as a whole. Notice how you feel when the conversation is over.
In closing, while I doubt that Vanilla Ice ever ever meant for his words (were they even his? I don’t know) to be deconstructed in this way, I also don’t doubt that his human qualities also speak to these same principles and that we can all do a little more… stopping, collaborating and listening.
Over and out..