Listening: Acquiring Wisdom and Gaining Wonder


“Deep listening is an act of surrender. We risk being changed by what we hear.” – Valarie Kaur, activist, lawyer, author

The hardest part of listening is letting go of our need to speak. If we can stop and pay attention to our mind’s propensity to formulate thoughts, we may just be able to hear what someone else is saying.

In listening closely to someone, we risk not being able to tell the other all the things we think, feel, and believe. But the potential for gain includes a perspective that could change the way we see, a perspective that just might help us acquire some wisdom and a little bit of wonder.

In this time of almost unfathomable opportunity for communication, perhaps we can take an honest inventory of the imbalance we may have between our speaking and listening skills.

Social media points to an overabundance in our ability to express and a dearth in our ability to listen. There is a time and place to lay out clearly formulated and well thought out ideas, but let’s be honest. Most of the time, we just want to get our opinion out there.

We all come to our beliefs and opinions through this thing called life. And the road each of us has walked doesn’t look like anyone else’s journey, no matter how similar it may look.

Are we soft enough, humble enough, to be changed by the story of another? We don’t need to change our core beliefs, but we can change our understanding of another’s pain. We open our minds to a side we have never considered. We surrender that almost obsessive impulse to insert our opinions into a conversation.

Every time we read a book, we agree to listen without interrupting. What if we took some of the discipline required to read into our conversations?

Just maybe we will be able to gain some wisdom. And see the wonder inside another human spirit.

The more I wonder, the more I love.

Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Prismatic Perspectives

One of my greatest joys as a teacher was teaching a Logic course to 8th graders. That age group just loves to argue. They are quick to find fallacies and invalid conclusions, especially when they are someone else’s!

If I were teaching today, I would introduce a new fallacy called the “I don’t understand how” fallacy. The more you are aware of it, the more you hear it.
 
I was listening to an interview with a public figure who was talking about one of the presidential candidates. “I don’t understand how anyone could have voted for someone who…(a number of reasons). I have friends who voted for him and I don’t understand how that’s possible.”

It’s as if our lack of understanding is proof that someone is wrong. If something is beyond our ability to believe, then anyone who believes that is wrong. 

Most fallacies oversimplify another’s point of view by assigning it the worst possible motive. Instead of saying “I don’t understand how” and leaving it there, maybe we should be saying “I want to understand how.” The public figure who couldn’t understand how his friends voted for a candidate could have asked. I have kind, thoughtful, and compassionate friends who voted both parties.

Their reasons are as complex as they are. They are standing in different places, and they see different “colors.” We have prismatic perspectives. The light we see is reflected differently and our perspectives will be different as well. 

I really don’t care about opinions on facebook and twitter. But if people I care about have different perspectives, I want to be able to understand them. I don’t want to ever assume the worst possible motive. It’s really ridiculous to argue a conclusion. It is important to understand how people reach conclusions, and often, it takes time to peel back emotions and get to reasons.

It would be nice to actually argue the issues involved, which would involve supported premises and conclusions that follow. But until then, maybe we could at least remember that even if we can only see one color of the prism, there are at least six others that may just as “true.” 

Maybe it’s easier just to say, “I don’t understand how…”

Switch Out the Lens

It only takes a moment to change perspective. Sitting on the plane, we see the tarmac and the gates and the baggage handlers. In minutes, we see the entire city and the lake, mountains and bridges. I love how things becomes smaller as my picture becomes bigger.

If only we could climb in an airplane every time we needed to see differently. There are days the tarmac is all I can see. Or the dreary rainy days that declare the sun has left town. Maybe permanently.

One day while out with my daughter, she took a picture of me at a coffee shop. When I looked at the picture, I laughed and said, “Can you make me smaller????” It was so close up and I was larger than life. Well, not with this lens, she informed me.

And that’s how I feel when a problem seems bigger than life, taking my entire field of view. I remind myself that I can’t see differently with the lens I have on. I need the wide-angle lens, the view from up above, where everything gets perspective. Maybe we need a little of God’s perspective.

Everyday. I need to remind myself to stop being absorbed with things right in front of me. That telephoto lens is designed to make things look bigger than they really are, bigger than the grace that’s available. A couple of practices we can choose any time we are needing a different perspective:

  • gratitude
  • meditation
  • prayer
  • deep breathing
  • exercise
  • stepping outdoors

Maybe it’s time to switch out our lens. Getting up off the ground only takes a moment. The wide-angle lens with a bigger picture can be so much better.

“Distance lends enchantment to the view.” ― Mark Twain

For Anyone Who “Makes” Anything

For those of us who love to create, it is easy to get discouraged when we get in a slump. We look at the production line and see the belt has stopped rolling. Discouragement begins to creep in. But could it be that we are allowing quantity to be the real measure of our creative process?

This applies to so much of what we do on any given day. It could be painting, designing, writing a blog or a poem or a song, taking a photo, sharing words of hope with a friend, making a dinner, giving anything of ourselves to someone else.

This brilliant quote by poet laureate Amanda Gorman caused me to stop and think about my own discouragement. It speaks to the possible mindset behind it. 

I think if I could go back in time and give myself a message, it would be to reiterate that my value as an artist doesn’t come from how much I create. I think that mindset is yoked to capitalism. Being an artist is about how and why you touch people’s lives, even if it’s one person. Even if that’s yourself, in the process of art making.”

Amanda Gorman, Poet, NYT Arts and Leisure, 3.14.2021

Young at Heart?

Frank Sinatra immortalized the very classic “Young at Heart” back in 1953. It has become standard advice for maintaining a youthful attitude in life. But sometimes it’s helpful to look at ideas from other perspectives. The heart goes through a lot in this life.

I do everything I can to keep “young at heart” in a physical sense. But I think being “older at heart” has some advantages. People with older hearts have had a lot of practice in loving and figuring out what really matters at the end of the day. 

Obviously, all ages practice this. It’s just that experience is a good teacher, and experience generally takes time. When we start out in life, it is totally about us. We are gradually trained in the concept of “other.” Share your toy with the “other” child in our home. Let the “other” go first. It’s not always an easily won battle.

But we keep practicing, getting it wrong, and learning. We have parents and teachers who help us see what it means not to be selfish, not to be mean, not to use the word “hate” when talking about others. We are learning the “art of the heart.”

My younger heart was more self focused, more judgmental, more comparative, more wrapped up in romantic feelings about love. My older heart has learned something about “sharing” and that always involves giving away something of myself.

It could mean giving physical things, but most often it means giving an ear or a shoulder or a word of encouragement. It could mean wishing them well as we let them go. It could mean forgiving someone for that thing we want to hold on to. It could mean responding the wrong way, but apologizing and trying to do better next time.

As Rod Stewart sang, “This old heart of mine, been broke a thousand times…” Older hearts have been broken over and over again. Older hearts have stitches and duct tape and band aids deep beneath the surface, each one telling a story of loss and sorrow. But broken things get made stronger as we allow the mending process to have its way.

Staying young at heart physically is as important as anything else I do, but I’m getting more comfortable with being “older at heart” in other ways. Perfectly drawn hearts don’t represent older hearts. Those have been hammered and bent and twisted into something that might not look very aesthetic, but there’s so much beauty to eyes that peer beyond appearance.

The next time we see a wrinkle on a face–be it ours or someone we love–let’s remember that something of beauty picked up and moved to the heart.

“Some people, no matter how old they get, never lose their beauty – they merely move it from their faces into their hearts.” Martin Buxbaum

When I’m Wiser and I’m Older…

I was out walking and “Wake Me Up,” by Avicii, started playing. The song is about waking up when everything is over, “when I’m wiser and I’m older…” And it got me thinking about that phrase “wiser and older.” Because simply growing older, and not wiser, would be a sad conclusion to life.

Right after that, a dear friend gave me a Glassy Baby. Those familiar with that amazing company know that each “baby” has a name, and the one she gave me was “WISE.” It seemed like wisdom was trying to get my attention.

So, I ‘ve been thinking a lot about that lately. Being wise includes having experience, knowledge, and sound judgment. But another, maybe equally important quality, is an awareness of life’s paradoxical nature and all its ambiguities. 

The reason that people “down the road” a bit have more opportunity to grow in wisdom is because we most likely have had our habitual and familiar lives uprooted.  We’ve had to make sense of life at other levels. “Business as usual” doesn’t work when life feels more “unusual” than anything else.

I used to live a very black and white life, which I think is indicative of younger generations. I mean, the TikTok generation has declared that side parts, skinny jeans, and the laughing emoji are out. And that’s ok. When I think back honestly, I probably would have cancelled anything that wasn’t bell bottoms and frosted white lipstick.  We just didn’t have any way to cancel things back then. We perfected the eye roll.

I had so many opinions about so many things. Right and wrong, black and white. I was forming the container that would hold my life, and it had to make sense. But the funny thing is that as we grow older, life seems to makes less sense. Our minds realize that nothing is as it seems, people are complicated, and simple answers don’t often meet all life’s complexities. It’s more gray than we realized. Judgment is hard in a gray world.

The paradoxical nature of life requires that we know how to hold everything without needing to judge it all. It’s loving those wearing a side part AND those who see the middle part as the only way. Wisdom is really about our lens, and how we interpret the world. I think wisdom looks a lot like love.

“Wisdom is clearly more than intelligence, knowledge of facts, or information. Wisdom is more synthesis than analysis, more paradoxical than linear, more a dance than a march.”

Richard Rohr

Thoughts on what wisdom looks like in everyday life? 

When Transitions Choose Us

As any woman who has birthed a child can attest, the transition part of labor is excruciating. Although it is generally the shortest stage, that offers little comfort in the midst. While we are screaming for it to end, those around us are assuring us that it is accomplishing great things. The baby will be birthed through this pain. 

One doesn’t need to give birth to experience transition, though. We all experience times of intense change, either by choice or by circumstance. Like waves, ebbing and flowing in and out of our lives, they sometimes feel like they’re taking us under.

Even the most celebratory changes—like getting married or becoming a parent—include big changes. We leave roommates, parents, cities, the single life, or the carefree married life. To embrace something new, we often have to leave old things behind. 

AS WE GET OLDER, TRANSITIONS BEGIN TO CHOOSE US 

As we get older, transitions choose us more often than the other way around, and we leave things behind that weren’t our choice. We don’t always like it. Transitions often involve pain, but they are also necessary to birth a new thing. Whether we wanted that new thing or not. 

If our lives were just about us, it maybe wouldn’t matter all that much how we responded. But people who make a difference in this world don’t spend much time complaining about life. So how do we get through the sometimes painful transition seasons in life? 

  1. WE KEEP OUR GOALS IN FOCUS.

I’m not talking lofty and complicated here. It could be simply believing that love is stronger than anything that comes against it. Or that kindness always counts. Or that seemingly crushed plans are not the final word. This past season required me to cling to the idea that good days were ahead. Some days I would get with a friend for a walk or coffee. Some days I would light a candle and declare that light is stronger than darkness. Some days I picked up an inspirational book. Some days I just prayed for grace and trusted tomorrow was a new day.

  1. WE DECIDE TO NEVER GIVE UP.

Because it really is a choice. That doesn’t mean we are always chirpy or that we never want to give up. It might mean that we enlist help, either professionally or with those close to us. I really did “get by with a little help from my friends” during this past season. Some days all we can do is declare, “I can’t see it right now. But if I stay in the game today, I win.” Better days lie ahead.

  1. WE BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF REDEMPTION. 

It helps to have a core belief that pain is a teacher and every challenge is an opportunity to grow in ways we wouldn’t have sought out voluntarily. I am definitely walking down paths that never would have appeared prior to all the changes. There is often fear attached with the kinds of changes we face as we grow older. Maybe we’re alone now, or we’re dealing with a health issue, or we find ourselves without a job. But if we can remember that something new is being birthed through this process, we can better tolerate the pain of getting there.  

The transition stage doesn’t define the birthing process—the new life does. I am 5’2” and weigh about 100 lbs, but five babies were delivered through this small frame. We are so much stronger than we think. If we are in a lot of pain, we remember that transitions are producing something, and they won’t last forever. There is new life on the other side. 

“Often what alarms us as an ending can in fact be the opening of a new journey–a new beginning that we could never have anticipated; one that engages forgotten parts of the heart.”

John O’ Donohue

How Do I “Throw Candy” Again?

I was away at a beach house reading a book called Present Over Perfect. The author, Shauna Niequist, was describing a time she was away at a lake house. There was a tradition there of throwing candy at kayakers as they paddled by. At one point, in the middle of a lot going on, the host stopped everything to run and throw candy at a couple of kayakers. She was dumbfounded how he could have just stopped in the middle of all that just to throw candy.

As I watched from the deck of the lodge, I began to sob. I sobbed because I used to throw candy, no matter what. I used to be warm and whimsical. I used to believe in the power of silliness and memory-making and laughter. And then I became the kind of person who threw candy as long as it didn’t get in the way of being responsible. I threw candy at sanctioned candy-throwing time, after all the work was done. And then I got so wrapped up in being responsible that it was never the right time to throw candy. And then, the worst thing: I became the kind of person who made fun of candy-throwers.

Shauna Niequist


I struggled as I read this chapter. She acknowledged that she used to be warm and whimsical but all that was a memory now. I could totally relate.

WHO AM I AFTER IT IS ALL STRIPPED AWAY?

After a whole bunch of life events rearranged the life I had known for so long, I went to a counselor to try to make sense of it all. She asked me one of the hardest questions I’ve ever had to ponder: Who are you now that everything is stripped away? I had no idea. 

I mentioned this to a close friend, who had known me for the past almost 40 years. “Oh, I know who you are,” she said. Really? Oh, do tell. “I remember when I first got to know you. You were funny, fun, and lighthearted. I loved that about you.”

Over time, those qualities eroded. Chipped away by one busy season after another. Responsible was my new moniker. Teacher, trainer, serious one. Oh, I still had moments where fun and funny would peek out. But they were the exception to the daily rule. Lighthearted was just a memory. 

RSVP: YES

So I read Shauna’s description through tears. How do I get that back? How do I “throw candy” again? All I knew is that it was time to reclaim the deepest part of me. When everything around us changes, the invitation to change ourselves has to be accepted. RSVP: Yes. 

I can’t change any of the circumstances, and most of them I would never want to change. They have brought me to the place I am today. But I can change the image that paints a false impression of who I am. 

WHAT ARE THINGS I DO THAT DON’T REFLECT WHO I REALLY AM?

What are the things that I do that don’t reflect who I am at the deepest level? We all need to ponder that question, I think. When we aren’t being authentic to our true selves, we can’t really be at peace. I’m on a quest to answer this question, but until I figure this out a little more, maybe I’ll just throw a little candy. Maybe we could all use a little candy throwing in our lives!

You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.

Thomas Merton

Positive Thoughts Only?

Life can be super sniper sneaky. 

Sometimes the pace of events runs faster than we can process it all. One thing hits us without warning; another follows closely behind. They don’t have to be big events. It’s usually just regular old routine life happening faster than we can keep up.

MAYBE JUPITER JUST ALIGNED WITH MARS
Maybe we got some unsettling news, or we saw a picture-perfect post on a less than picture-perfect day. Maybe our radically changed life has left us feeling empty. Someone may have let us down. Maybe Jupiter aligned with Mars: we have no clue why we’re struggling. But it’s still real.

OUR THOUGHT WILL AFFECT US
Here’s the “no choice” fact: our thoughts will affect us today. It helps if we can identify our thoughts and unhook them from past regrets, future fears, or present day tentativeness. But, just echoing the “Positive thoughts only” mantra is not always helpful. Sometimes it’s a little—well—mean.

I had been talking with a therapist about a number of things I was working through. She knew how much I valued positive thinking. One day I told her that I was just out of the blue sad. 

WHY “GOOD VIBES ONLY” ISN’T ALWAYS THE RIGHT RESPONSE
After I shared, she started talking about keeping my thoughts positive. I wanted to cry. Yes, I know. Yes, I tried. Like, every time we don’t have a positive thought, we did something wrong. I was pretty quiet after that. Every once in a while, our struggle with a thought seems bigger than normal, and we just can’t shake it. 

GIVING OUR THOUGHTS SOME SPACE TO LINGER
I have discovered that sometimes it might be best to acknowledge that our sadness (fear, anxiety, hopelessness, whatever) wants to hang out with us for a bit.  “Ok, you can stay. For a day. I will sit with you and hear you out. I won’t try to replace you with another thought. You want to be seen and heard. And I acknowledge that.”

TRUSTING OURSELES
If we’ve been practicing keeping our thoughts positive, we can trust ourselves with this process. Maybe we need to write about how we feel; maybe we need to share our thoughts with someone who will listen. I have found that when I give a thought permission to hang for a bit, I learn something from it. And within a very short period of time, it agrees to leave.

FOCUS ON THE GOOD BUT BE KIND TO YOURSELF 
For the most part, fixing our thoughts on the positive is our protection against this sniper sneaky life. It’s critical we don’t let negative thoughts just keep rolling in. 

But if we get hit out of the blue with a thought that just won’t leave, maybe it needs some space to work things out. Tomorrow is a new day and we can trust that our thoughts will be new as well. Reminding myself and all who need it: Good vibes and positive thoughts. But also, life happens and sometimes we need a day to get there. 

It’s ok. 

Stay Active, Stay Curious: How Walking and Podcasting Can Help Us Do Both

I have always been an avid reader. Books opened up a whole new world for me, and I devoured them growing up. Today, I still love reading. And while a good “beach read” is a fun escape, I don’t so much want to be entertained as I want to be provoked. I want to be challenged in the way I think, or understand something more fully.

As we get older it is so important that we stay curious, that we allow our worlds to expand. It is also important that we stay active. I have discovered a way to do both.

When I was diagnosed with RA a number of years ago, it was challenging to stay active. I loved to run, hike, and weight train. But for a while, I couldn’t even walk. Just getting to the mailbox was a stretch. But as my body began to heal, I was able to go farther. Sometimes I wanted a distraction from some discomfort I still had.

Enter the podcast. I love the long format style of discussion, and after this year’s election cycle, I can’t handle other news sources. Sound bites never tell the whole story and often suggest something that is far from truth. Context is king, and sound bites offer none of it.

At first, I just listened to episodes that were inspirational. I needed encouragement, motivation, and hope poured into my soul. I almost always came back better than when I left. Because I believe that truth is truth, it didn’t matter if someone’s belief system was different than mine.  I learned to look past some of the things I might not agree with and grab the good.

Honestly, anything that sounds interesting usually proves to have some element of inspiration in it. Interesting people inspire me. Below are some of my favorite podcasts, along with a few specific episodes that I really liked. 

Super Soul Conversations Oprah Winfrey

  • Lady Gaga: “Heal through Kindness”
  • Bryan Stevenson: “The Power of Mercy and Forgiveness”
  • Michael Singer: “Free Yourself from Negative Thoughts”
  • Paul Coelho: “What if the Universe Conspired in Your Favor”

Tim Ferris

  • Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: “Powerful Books, Mystics, and the Dangers of Safe Spaces”
  • Lori Gottlieb: “The Power of Getting to Unknot Yourself”
  • Jocko Willink: “On Quitting, Relationships, Financial Discipline and more”
  • Jim Collins: “The Value of Small Gestures, Unseen sources of Power and more”
  • Jerry Seinfeld: “A Comedy Legend’s Systems, Routines, and Methods for Success”
  • Harley Finkelstein: “Tactics and Strategies form Shopify, the Future of Retail and more”

Joe Rogan (on Spotify)

  • Edward Snowden
  • James Nestor
  • Brett Weinstein 
  • Neil de Grasse Tyson
  • Elon Musk
  • Tulsi Gabbard

These are just some that I have enjoyed. The podcast world has exploded over the past few years and there are so many out there. Get good walking shoes, grab earbuds, and head out the door.  You just might come back better than when you left!