January 26th is Australia Day! Although there is currently controversy about moving the date of this holiday (sparking many celebrities to take a stand against celebrating this year) it didn’t stop me from thinking of my favorite Australian things. No matter the day of the year, I’m always celebrating the beauty Australia provides- the gorgeous scenery, the cool animals, and the God of Thunder- Chris Hemsworth.
Take a moment to soak in all that Hemsworth glory.
Moving on, having Australia on my mind has reminded me of one of my favorite Aussie words: dadirri, (noun) meaning a deep, contemplative listening. This is one of the words that cross my mind as I close my eyes and settle in at the beginning of a meditation session. Thinking of Australian heat and sunshine brings me to a happy place. Using dadirri as it’s intended meaning, intently listening to nature, can draw meditation to an organic place bringing us closer to the natural world.
Dadirri also reminds me of applying the same deep, attentive listening to my social relationships. I often preach about the importance of support. To me, having support is not just an A-B closed circuit. Support is a web where we can reach out for help, but also provide help when others need it. Listening to those in pain and giving love can help us with our own confidence. Connecting with empathy releases serotonin (the love hormone.) It’s often a natural reaction to hug those needing aid and comfort. A hug benefits both parties. Being a support person is just as important as the party requiring the help.
(there’s no support like sister hugs. those things help ALL tears.)
I haven’t always been a great listener. Not having a healthy mind affects the way you interact with others. Unsure of how to comfort, I’d often interject with my own stories to try and relate, or sometimes vent my own woes (accidentally giving off that “one up” or “I have it worse” perception. It’s not the appropriate time to make things about you.
Having anxiety, or overly wanting to be a supportive friend often made me try to think of what I’d say next. I’d be zoned out and rehearsing my next response in my head, then realize I completely missed the conversation. That’s an overzealous fail, but with sincere intentions.
What am I doing to improve myself? First, I’m focused on my long term goal – strengthening my relationship with my loved ones, and raising them up to be the best they can be. Next, I’m evaluating what hasn’t worked in the past: making things about me, or focusing on my own input instead of theirs. Finally, I’m making changes.
Finding yourself in a situation that requires your listening skills should first alert you to put away distractions. Put your phone down, shut off the tv, or step into a private place. (One of my biggest pet-peeves is when my husband scrolls Reddit as I speak.) If someone is reaching out to you, they deserve your attention. Make eye contact if they’re in front of you. If it’s a phone conversation, tell them to bear with you while you step into a quiet place to talk. If it’s via text, don’t set your phone down and walk away. Do your best to be responsive and involved.
Read the room/audience. The way I listen to my sister is different than the way I support my ten year old daughter. My tone is different, the questions I ask are different. Gauge your interactions appropriately, and accept that these situations present themselves in all different forms.
Ask questions, specifically open-ended questions that allow opportunity for additional details or emotions. Yesterday I called my sister before I acted on a particularly difficult task. I was looking for emotional support and validation that I was doing the right thing. She asked me questions like “what happened that made you want to do this?” and “how would it feel if this bad thing continued and you didn’t complete your difficult task to stop it?” I called looking for HER validation. Instead, her questions lead me to finding MY OWN validation. It was the difference between being pushed in the right direction versus being empowered to go the right direction myself.
As part of asking questions, ask for clarification. This makes the speaker go into further detail, or repeat the important highlights. This is just as important for them as it is for the listener, as it reinforces the most meaningful points of their speech. It also lets the speaker know that you ARE listening, and your brain is processing what they say.
Resist the urge to finish sentences or give unwanted advice. Let them speak for themselves. Interjecting in an overpowering manner can take the conversation in an unintended direction, leaving the speaker more confused or feeling that they have ‘unfinished business’ with their original issue still weighing on them. This can be incredibly frustrating. I once had a good friend who often fell into “circumstantial speech” which is a pattern characterized by rambling, unnecessary comments or irrelevant details. For example, she would tell a story about fighting with her boyfriend but get lost in the details of ‘was it Wednesday or Thursday? Oh, it must have been Wednesday because Thursday I went to the laundromat to make sure his work clothes were clean. He gets in a lot of trouble at work if his uniform isn’t just right. I’ve been using this new detergent that smells great but it’s a little expensive…” The temptation was always there to stop her to say that it didn’t matter what day it was, just tell me about the fight. That kind of interjection was not what she needed, I had to just be patient and let her get there on her own terms. Sometimes, the fight would end up being about the laundry detergent. She would want to spend the extra money on soap that smells great, but her boyfriend can’t justify the expense on something so trivial. If I’d gotten frustrated and tried to redirect her back to the fight, her flow and confidence would be knocked off kilter. Just be patient and let them get it off their chest.
I want the best for my kids, so I’m working hard to encourage good listening skills. We try to practice the “give me 5!” method.
- Give me your eyes- look at the speaker without distraction
- Give me your ears – listen to the speaker, even if that means turning off the radio or television.
- Give me your mouth- keep your lips still while you listen and resist the urge to talk over the speaker.
- Give me a quiet body- stay still while listening, stop what you’re doing with your hands, resist the urge to bounce your feet or legs. (motion in body language can often make the speaker feel that they are being rushed to finish the story, or that you have become uninterested.)
- Give me your brain- process what is being said to you. Formulate questions to ask at the appropriate times, think of consoling words or actions to use at the right time.
Listening is a skill, and needs to be practiced to be improved. No one is perfect, and organic body sensations can be hard to change (such as rehearsing your next comment for the conversation, when you should be listening.) The best we can do is have good intentions, and make ourselves available to those who need support. Even the worst listeners have the ability to comfort, even if it’s just physical contact or being present. I aspire to bring dadirri from meditation and into my conversation skills- to slow my own mind, and allow it to fill with the sounds of others. It’s difficult, it’s a process, and it’s a goal. I’m not there yet, I don’t know if I will ever be. Being aware of my own intentions, and my desire to support others is already the first step.
May you find your dadirri- for your own health, and the support of others.
With healthy hearts (and listening ears,)
Kate and the Kids.