I saw a Mr. Rogers quote recently that stopped me in my tracks. As many do.
The purpose of life is to listen – to yourself, to your neighbor, to your world, and to God and, when the time comes, to respond in as helpful a way as you can find…from with and without.
I know Fred Rogers was a devoted swimmer, and sometimes I think he would’ve been a yogi in another era, too. Consistent in a gentle-paced but rigorous physical regimen, thoughtful and wise about the way he chose his words and lived his days.
The balance in these words is remarkable. So often I feel like I’m losing my balance – I’ve talked too much, or listened too much without offering any response, or just generally been not right in how I’ve moved through the relationships, big and small, in my days.
I love the idea that listening does not equate to being forever quiet and at the disposal of people who need to talk; nor does it necessitate reaction from a place of sheer exhaustion or overwhelm. Particularly because Mr. Rogers starts with listening to self and ends with listening to God (his “something greater”), I feel a resounding yes well up in my chest. People and the world are terribly important, but so are those bookends – I know this, but I forget. Again and again, I forget.
I’ve written here many times about learning to be an introvert in a busy world of family, friends, coworkers, and clients. Not to mention families of clients, and the guy manning the checkout line at the grocery store, and the people who feel very comfortable walking up to me and asking personal questions about my child or pregnancy. There are lots of people out there, and I love them dearly. And sometimes they completely overwhelm me.
Mix in a chronic need-to-please pattern and a deeply-ingrained collective “not enough” complex, and by Friday evening I’m basically a big mess in desperate need of tea, silence and a lot of deep breaths.
When I think of Mr. Rogers’ suggestion that listening isn’t just for others – that we are as deeply tied to listening and responding to the waves of our own bodies, emotions, and thoughts as we are to the people we encounter, I feel calm wash over me. When I think about the fact that God – which to me is the quiet space between thoughts, the rhythm of my breath, the pulse of my heart, and the peace of fully settling into each moment – warrants as much listening attention as anyone or anything else, I can see how this complex life is doable after all. I can see how I might know how to listen and when to act.
In a world abuzz with ever-updating news, visual social media static, and an urgent push to be everything to all people all the time, I know I can listen if I keep all those factors in equally in sight – self, neighbor, world and God. If I slip into old habits and suddenly find all my energy going to other people and the world, I’m lost and lonely and overwhelmed.
If I think on it long (or even just for a second, ha!), I can see that the place from which I act, or respond in as helpful a way as [I] can, has to be a place of balance, starting and ending outside the world of people and events. It has to be rooted in the sacred space of my heart and in an impossibly expansive awareness of unconditional connection or
life will never feel like enough, never feel sustainable.
We’re facing 7 to 14 inches of snow on this mid-April weekend here in Minnesota. I am very, very pregnant. Work has been busy and complicated and really, really good. I can’t listen to the news without feeling utter incredulity and piles of worry. Our toddler is a silly, active, delightful little madwoman who requires lots of attention.
Basically, life right now is full, dynamic, beautiful, and in many ways uncomfortable. As much as I’d prefer to have the welcome distraction of windows open, and to be plotting what veggies to (ask someone else to) plant in the garden, I know that one more snow-bound weekend with time to listen to myself and touch into something greater than all the rest of it – probably with the help of my yoga mat – will serve me very, very well.