Paying attention, reading between the lines.

The precise effect of the observer in quantum experiments seems to be infinitely arguable; what is plain, however, is that there is an effect. Attention—that by which the observer observes—is a force. When we engage that force, when we listen to someone or something, there is a sense of yielding, of surrender on our part; that’s the “pay” in “paying attention.” We also, however, give something: we become generators of that force, or perhaps conduits for it. The implications of this are enormous: our attention, at some level and in some way, affects reality. When we listen deeply, when we pay attention, we may be giving more than we know. To quote Cheryl Richardson, “People start to heal the moment they feel heard.”

Alas, the fact is we rarely deeply listen. We play at listening, pretend to listen, fool ourselves into believing we are listening while, actually, behind our “I’m listening” mask, we’re unconsciously dodging the uncomfortable bits, lost in the reactions spurred by the tidbits we do pick up, waiting for someone else to hurry up and stop talking so we can start.

In order to truly listen, we must first have the intent to do so; then, enough continuity of presence to maintain that intention; and finally, enough self-awareness to know whether we’re listening or not. It’s a subtle and slippery business. In addition to the inner distractions of our thoughts and feelings, we also have the bodily tensions that arise from them—all of these things weaken our attentive power. A hard-nosed determination to listen doesn’t work, either—it’s too attached, which is itself a distraction. A kind of relaxed presence is key: a broad observing—absorbing, really—of the other, along with an awareness of our continuing reactions, without a repressing of or an indulging in those reactions.

Listening is an Elemental card. When it appears in a casting, the importance of listening and the question of whether we are listening or not comes to fore. Something is requiring or demanding our attention: we need to get our stuff—our preconceived notions, our inner chatter, our opinions and neediness—out of the way. And listening deeply is, of course, more than just hearing words—what is not said is sometimes more important than what is.