The Space Between
Happy New Year! I don’t know about you guys but I am happy to see 2016 end. Both from a global and personal perspective, it proved to be a tough year, however, I guess the silver lining in it all was that I definitely gained a sense of renewed inner strength and felt I grew as a person. I also gained a new appreciation for self care and indulging in a glass of wine every night. (Thank you, Cloudy Bay.)
At the beginning of a new year, we often times become emotionally burdened by the idea that we need to set new goals and intentions for self improvement. I find myself jumping in full force with several grandiose ideas soon to realize that I hadn’t properly done the inner work necessary to even discover what I want to change or improve. I think they call this “taking action without alignment.” Before we can take effective action, we must step back and create an awareness of where we are and where we want to be.
I know this notion goes against the norm of what we expect of ourselves in January. Most of wake up on New Year’s Day and say to ourselves, “Okay, enough bullsh*t. I need to lose 10 pounds, make more money, spend more time with my friends and family, exercise more, etc….” You might be thinking, whatever Elaine, I have work to do! Who has time for all this inner reflection crap? Well, it’s a good point, but I guess I’ve learned from my mistakes that taking action without first doing the inner work usually ends up in failure.
With that said, our January New Year’s theme will be to Pause, Assess, and Reset. I wrote the piece below over the holiday break. I created an intention for myself over the break and it was to slow down. When I say this, I don’t just mean slowing down in a general sense, but rather a true slow down. I engaged in trying to slow down my actions and reactions to what was going on around me. In essence, to not run up the stairs, but slowly walk, to not hurry out the back door in a state of anxiety but to calm myself and walk to my car with ease, to accept and allow my occasional tardiness, to not speed in my car from place to place, to stop and enjoy my kids, husband, family and friends, to truly listen to what they were saying to me and deeply engage. This one was the biggest challenge for me.
Allowing conversations to flow without interruption is hard, but by attempting to to do this, it altered my behavior. It created a sense of inner peace. I’m not going to lie my experiment was far from perfect. Some days were better than others — my three-hour delay in the Albuquerque airport proved to be too much. The F word once again became my dearest companion throughout the ordeal. God give me GRACE.
Hope your January begins with ease. Join me on our journey to Pause, Assess and Reset.
I look up and take a quick breath in between my words and see tears rolling down her face. I think to myself, she’s giving me the gift of silence. I feel heard. I feel understood. I feel loved.
My good friend and I had been at an event earlier in the day when we both left at the same time, we found ourselves huddled in the parking lot trying to catch up on all that has happened in our lives over the past several weeks. She looked at me and said, “You know what, I had a meeting to go to but I’m canceling it. I want to catch up with you.”
Well, ten minutes later we are sitting in the bar at our favorite Mexican restaurant and she says, “E, tell me what’s going on with everything. How are you handling your grief? How is Marlie doing? How is work?” Initially, I thought she can’t really want to know all of this, but I could see she meant it. I began to feel I was the fortunate recipient of a generous offering. She was offering me her vulnerability. She was offering me connection. She was offering me herself.
Two margaritas and two bowls of chips later, I started to unravel my tightly wound ball of emotions. Up until that day, I hadn’t been able to talk to anyone in much depth about my mother-in-law’s passing. It had been about three weeks since she died and I was still in shock. I was desperately trying to come to grips with the reality of what had happened while also being completely absorbed in my husband’s emotional state.
I guess, in that moment, by her offering to listen to me fully and uninterrupted inspired me to open up. I hadn’t consciously thought about needing to do this, but when she appeared ready to receive, I knew it was time. My beautiful friend gave me the space to express myself. She listened in silence. She listened with presence. She listened with patience. A door was opened. A safe space created. I cried. She cried. I cried again. I took my first step towards healing. A magic between us had occurred that day.
We all know we live in a noisy world. Full of 24-hour news and gadgets that keep us connected to all things external. It’s like we have become puppets tied to the strings of technology. We live in reaction state to most everything. The concept of silence isn’t familiar to most of us. In fact, when we are asked to be silent most of us cringe with a feeling of discomfort. However, my true intention in writing about silence is not to rehash all of what’s wrong in the world, but rather I want to explore how we can embrace silence in how we engage with the people around us.
After that day with my dear friend, I thought about my relationship with silence and how I can use it more effectively in my overall communication skills. In essence, I was inspired to explore it more deeply. I asked myself, when am I silent when interacting with Jim, my kids, my colleagues, my friends? If I’m honest with myself, the answer is not very often. In fact, one of Jim’s biggest critiques of me is how frequently I interrupt him. He’s tells me that I spend too much time thinking about my response to what he is saying instead of truly listening to what he is saying. To truly listen to someone, I need to practice silence. He’s right, dammit.
As Stephen Covey says,
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Can I get a hallelujah? Who’s with me here? This is SO true.
It’s ironic, I’ve always been told I am a pretty good communicator. But, what constitutes a good communicator? Communicating cannot be one sided. Communicating effectively involves two equal parts — talking and listening. If truth be told, I thought I had communication mastered. I have a daughter, Marlie, who has expressive, receptive speech delays and I felt I had developed an inherent awareness of how to patiently communicate with others. But as I looked further inside, I realized that I didn’t extend this grace to anyone other than Marlie.
We all have our own ways that we naturally communicate. Some of us are louder and more expressive than others (me) and some of us are more methodical and slower in how we express ourselves (my husband, Jim). I feel as if I have learned so much from Jim in this area of my life. Jim is usually not the one applauded for being a great communicator, but he is. I think the issue rests more with how most of us are conditioned to see communication as good or not. We usually applaud people who process information quickly, speak loudly and have a lot to say. Is faster, louder and more always better? Is there something to be said for less is more?
The reality is when Jim talks, I listen. He is not a person to carelessly throw around his words. William Shakespeare once said, “Men of few words are the best men.” (I concur.) Jim is not as fast as I am at retrieving what he wants to say (and in my humble opinion most men aren’t). He has a measured, thoughtful approach to the content he wishes to express. He also tends to pause a lot in mid conversation. I’ve come to understand this and realize this natural pause allows him to effectively process exactly what he wants to say. Unfortunately for most of us, a pause presents the perfect opportunity to jump in the conversation and interrupt the natural flow.
What if we all decided to hold that space? The space between the words and a response. What if we resisted the urge to interrupt?
I noticed this exact thing happen at a business meeting the other day. Jim was presenting results from the last quarter and I could see he was in his flow. He was in his natural, methodical rhythm of speaking and during one of his signature pauses, a fellow colleague immediately jumped in and interrupted him. I sighed with disappointment, but tried to have grace for the other person. I am in the middle of doing this work and recognizing my own deficiencies in communication. I cannot expect others to have this awareness, I thought. Ultimately, Jim lost his train of thought and the conversation shifted into a completely new and superfluous direction. This is the reality of poor communication skills. The tragedy is, when we carelessly interrupt, we tend to miss out on what was going to be said that could have allowed us to understand more fully the situation.
How many times a day do you interrupt?
The other night Jim was reading an email from his sister and I could see he was wiping tears from his face. I sat down and said, “Do you want to talk?” And he said, “Yes.” We went on to have the best conversation since his mother’s passing. We talked about his grief, his sadness, his guilt. We cried. We laughed. We held each other like there was no tomorrow. As we were getting up to leave the room, he looked at me and said, “Thank you for giving me that space tonight. I really needed that.” I replied, “It’s a gift I was just given. I wanted to pass it on. I’m doing all I can to live in the space between.” He looked puzzled and said, “What space is that?” And I said, “The space between your words and my response.” He smiled and gently kissed me on the forehead and said, “I love any space you are in.”
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