photo by Scott Liddell
I used to chronically finish other people’s sentences. It has become a great practice of mine over many years to not do so. I particularly like to practice with a man who has a severe stutter comes into the soup kitchen where I volunteer. It is so great to slow down further inside, and wait while he gets the words out.
This sort of practice, in general, helps me learn more, and to not assume I know. It allows for greater discovery.
On the occasions where I do finish someone else’s sentence, I’m drawn up for a moment with the realization that I lapsed out of presence and into assumption. This happens sometimes with one of my partners, who is another high-verbal type. Intellectual exploration, and even sparring, is a big part of our relationship, but sometimes the Mercurial nature of speech and thought gets in the way of deeper listening. Sometimes he finishes my sentences and I become annoyed because no, that was not what I was going to say at all. Plus, it interrupts the flow and measure of my thoughts. Sometimes I do the same with him. And then I attempt to return to my practice.
A companion to this practice of mine is that of asking, “What do you mean?” or “Can you unpack that for me?” Both of these questions advance inquiry, discovery, and learning. When I was young, I would just assume I knew what someone meant. My brain was so clever, of course I had it figured out! Or I felt embarrassed to let on that I might not know, so I just assumed I knew enough. This meant I was not able to learn as much as I might otherwise have. My unwillingness to ask those two questions meant I was impeding my own growth and development.
Slowing down enough to listen or ask questions helps me to learn. It also creates space for richer relationship with the world around me, with myself, with Nature, with the humans I interact with. I listen to the Gods, too. Sometimes they have insights I never would have come up with on my own. The community brain is similar: collectively we remember things we may have forgotten as individuals, or we bring back nuggets of wisdom from our trip to the store. In our own ways, we become like Gurdjieff and his “Seekers After Truth” whom legend tells us went to different parts of the world in order to bring back and share the experiences and knowledge they gathered.
Some people have a problem opposite to my own: they sometimes ask too many questions because they are forever second guessing themselves. There is no trust that rises from the belly toward the heart and mind, saying, “Yes! This!” There isn’t the willingness to risk making a bald statement or taking a stand, for fear of being wrong. This is another form of non-presence and not listening. When we don’t listen well enough to ourselves or our connections from self, we don’t interact from a place of strength. This, while masquerading as inquiry and learning, can actually become a way to never learn the big things that only teach us when we risk failure.
When I allow myself to listen well enough with my whole being, to be present with the vibration of the earth and the person or task in front of me, when I allow time and space to enter my awareness, I don’t have to race to finish the unknown. I can hear the voice of someone else supplying words I may have never come to on my own. Then I can speak with greater authority and confidence.
When we open to deeper states of learning, not run by avoidance, hubris, or fear, we can better teach each other. For this, I feel thankful.