There is an art to listening that, in my humble experience, comes from practice. I am reminded of this time and again when I blow it. When I forget to practice. When I forget to take the pause before responding. When I refuse to check my ego at the door. To slow down, create a space within, and sit with whatever arises.

Last week I blew it.

I turned 50 and was so fully celebrated by my friends and family that my healthy narcissism was all puffed up. For days, I walked in the full moon light of my birth like a toddler who believes everyone she meets is there just for her. Oh, it was delicious to be sure, but by day 4, when the fullness began to wear off, I took measures to try to keep it going.

I put on my fire yoga pants and strutted around the house like a peacock in its tail feathers. I decided to wear them all day even though they were cheap spandex pants that didn’t let my skin breath.  I should have heeded the signs.

“I feel so agitated,” I said, to my husband at breakfast after parading around the room in my fiery yoga pants. I shrugged this sensation to the background, ate and continued with my day.

When I found myself in a situation that required I be at my very best practice of listening, I was overheating in my tight pants. I stood to show off the streaks of fire licking up my legs to sounds of “oh” and “ah.”

Then, I blew it.

I was sharing some of my new writing in a creative arts group. As people began to give feedback, I balked. Put up hands. Pushed back. Burned up others’ words before they’d left their lips. I had forgotten to practice. I had forgotten I could sit still. Pause. Create a space inside and be curious.

Well, you can imagine that not everyone in the group loved having their sincere response to my writing shut down. While I believe that we each have the right and the responsibility to ourselves to decide what feedback is useful, it can be done with grace.

It’s hard to be graceful when your pants are cutting off your circulation. It’s hard to be graceful when fire is burning up your legs. It’s hard to be graceful when you forget to practice listening.
If you rearrange the letters of the word “listen” you get “silence.” What a great place to start. What a great place to end. What a great place to come back to again and again.
Ursula K. Le Guin says in A Wizard of Earthsea, “For a word to be spoken, there must be silence. Before and after.”

And so I am reminded to pause. To listen into the silence. To start here, and return here — and to throw those yoga pants into the fire.