Listening to Myself: Space and time to think and write
I’m pretty excited for my Independence Day plans. What are you doing for the Fourth of July? Join me at Kripalu for writing, meditation and peace-and-quiet.
Last October, I was on Susan McPherson’s rooftop celebrating the release of Soraya Chemaly’s book, Rage Becomes Her. Soraya’s book is all about feminine anger, but I was surrounded by women who inspire me deeply. I had only just met Susan but already knew her to be endlessly thoughtful—a true connector. She insisted I meet Lisa Weinert because we both help people nurture their voices—her on the page and me in spoken form.
We instantly realized the interconnectivity of our work and Lisa invited me to teach a workshop on listening as part of her Narrative Healing retreat at Kripalu Center for Health & Yoga from June 30th-July 5th. This year’s program will feature some incredible speakers including Emmy Award-Winning Writer Suleika Jaouad; Executive Editor of the Feminist Press, author and activist Jamia Wilson; critically acclaimed speaker and writer Ashley C. Ford; author and meditation teacher Ethan Nichtern; restorative yoga master Jillian Pransky; and writer Ruthie Lindsey. I’m honored to join this stellar lineup and lead a 3-hour listening practicum (see here for more information or to register).
At first, I considered bringing the whole family up. It is nearly a week and that’s a lot of time to be away from Billie and Tim. But when I learned more about the retreat, I decided to fly solo. Unlike any other literary retreat, Narrative Healing is a mind-body storytelling experience. There will be talks in the morning and intimate writing workshops in the afternoon. We would be using our whole bodies—our comprehensive experiences—to explore storytelling as a therapeutic practice through yoga, meditation, and listening to ourselves.
One month from now my workshop will be over and I’ll be just a participant in this 5-day retreat at one of the world’s most beautiful retreat centers, known for its incredible food, healing arts, yoga and 300 acres of land including a swimming lake. I couldn’t have imagined then how much I would need this experience now.
Writing as a natural state
I have always said, “I’m not a writer.” One of my favorite parts of directing theater was working closely with playwrights as a sounding board, helping them listen to themselves more clearly. I always called myself an interpretive artist rather than a creative one: I had too much respect for the art form (and was deeply insecure about my own “inability” to write). I did Morning Pages from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way only when it was on my to-do list. I blogged because I felt like I had to for my business. I felt unable to write for one reason: I didn’t write.
That’s changed since becoming a mom. Lately, for the first time in my life, I’ve been feeling a pull to write. It feels cathartic in a different way, but scary too and beyond vulnerable. It makes me so uncomfortable that I’ve even dictated journal entries into my iPhone to avoid writing. I know it is necessary for me to write—therapeutically and professionally—but carving out the time to do so as a business-owner and new parent has been impossible until now.
I’m using this retreat as an opportunity to discover and design my own creative writing process. I want to write about my work and share what I see as a revolution in the workplace—new leaders with new confidence communicating and connecting in exciting and powerful ways. I want to write about my life as a way of remembering, instead of relying on social media to chronicle my memories for me. I want to do it for Billie but mostly I want to do it for myself.
Craving silence and space
I recently became a parent…to a toddler. Billie Bowie has more spirit and energy than any other kid on the block—and it is constant. Pre-Billie, I always had a podcast going while working on my computer with the TV on (I’m exaggerating only a little bit) but in the past year-and-a-half I need peace-and-quiet whenever I can get it.
I’m used to filling the space—I see this behavior in my clients too—we think if we fill the silence we are doing our partner a favor and carrying the burden of the conversation. So, because my toddler couldn’t talk yet, I spent our time together filling the silence. I was completely confused when the tantrums started and didn’t stop. I realized not-soon-enough that she understood everything I said. Every single word. I assumed that because she didn’t have language, she couldn’t understand me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I wasn’t leaving space for her in the conversation and she was pissed.
I started to leave space, and guess what? She responded! Not in sentences or even words, but the moment I started to listen to her—truly listen—we were able to communicate. Finally.
I soon realized I couldn’t listen to podcasts with her around because it was splitting my attention and preventing me from being present. This is what I teach—how to focus your attention in order to be present in impromptu conversations at work—and it took me so long to see the behavior in myself. Since that realization I see my own sensitivity to sound (New York City!) so clearly and have been choosing silence when I can.
Silence determines the pacing of our lives. It is the rate at which you respond to emails, the rate of your thought process and your rate of speech. When I started to cultivate silence, my life slowed down. Imagine that.
Listening as a practice
My work works in themes. I remember in 2017, all of my clients wanted more presence. Last year, the word was confidence. This year? Silence. Brevity. Pausing. Listening. With strategically placed silence, listening and retention increases 30-40%. Your audience needs time to process and you need time to think. There is nothing more powerful than realizing that confidence is about trusting those around you, leaning back and leaving space for them to bring themselves more fully to the conversation.
We need to practice this because most of us are horrible at it, our phones make for a constant internal soundtrack (silence’s worst enemy). And “Active Listening” is a fallacy: You’re either listening or you’re not. Listening, real listening, is vulnerable and present and uncomfortable. It’s a muscle that gets more comfortable the more focus you put towards it. For 3-hours amidst the backdrop of Kripalu, we will practice actionable, tangible tools that will jumpstart our ability to be better listeners to others, but also to ourselves.
I cannot wait.