It’s official. Life as we’ve known it is over, at least for the moment.
None of us could’ve prepared ourselves for how unsettling the novel coronavirus would be to our daily routines. Our old routines that once seemed drab and repetitive, now fill us with a sense of giddy anticipation. As they say, shift happens.
Something else has been shifting for me, my listening.
Thing is, listening doesn’t just involve our ears (that’s hearing, our biology), or our personal interpretation of what was said, though it includes both.
Listening is actually a full-bodied process. It involves experiencing our senses fully. When we learn to use our full-bodies to listen, we’re naturally more responsive to the uncertain tides of life, and more able to ride them.
There are four different aspects to this way of listening, oriented by our attention.
What’s going on 1) Out There, 2) Close-In, 3) Inside, and 4) Tomorrow. Let’s look at examples for each of these.
- Out There: What’s the data about the virus? How do we stay safe? What’s happening across the state, the rest of the country, the world?
- Close-In: How will this impact my work and school for the kids? What’s happening with our retirement savings? What about loved ones who are at greater risk? What about our neighbors and community?
- Inside: I’m more afraid than I’d like to admit—what can I do? It’s unsettling. I can feel a buzzy sensation across my chest that’s new, uncomfortable.
- Tomorrow: Will it go back to normal? Will there be a new normal?
Your listening’s changing because you’re attending to different aspects of life – new spaces of life are showing up while others are closing.
Let me share how this has shown up for me personally.
Normally when I’m at work, daily life shows up in particular ways, e.g. clients come to the office, an assistant handles requests, office hours end. I know how to ‘do’ work, and make sense of it. It all seems ‘normal.’ Probably for you too.
- As the news was taken over by the pandemic, my listening became more keenly focused on what was happening Out There. Hearing of the rapid spread of this highly contagious virus, I wondered how can we stop this? What will our leaders do? How many people will suffer?
- Soon, my listening shifted to Close-In. I wondered how long the gym would stay open so I could keep my routine. On my way to work I stopped for coffee, and the doors were closed. My office colleague was already working from home, so the office was very quiet. I liked it, at least for a little while.
- After a few days of my routine being out of whack, the notice for full shutdown was issued by our governor. Inside my anxieties rose around the future of my business. I could feel my own anxiety ratchet up – shorter breath, tightness across my eyes, spinning thoughts. Later, it showed up as resistance (denial) that I could ever get the virus. And then worry that I would.
- As I settled in further to this new reality, my focus shifted to Tomorrow questions – accompanied by more fear. Like, what if this is the new normal? What will change in our nation because of this experience? Will we be able to travel again with the same ease and freedom?
How to Listen Fully-Bodied
My home office is set up at the dining room table. I have Zoom calls with clients. Projects are spread across the dining room table. The broadcast news is playing more than typical, with a focus on Out There: data on the spread of the virus, it’s impact, leader’s reactions.
It didn’t take long to begin noticing—listening to—my experience Close-In.
My attachments to daily routines showed up. As did my irritation at not being able to go to the gym, impatience with technology (isn’t this true for everyone?), disappointment over missing shows at the Goodman Theater where we’re season tickets holders.
My meditation practice helped me listen to what was going on Inside.
At first, my physical sensations were of being unsettled and twitchy.
With a deeper breath my listening expanded. My hearing literally become more tuned in to the moment, to sounds I hadn’t noticed were present.
I started listening to my own inner chatter about what responses should’ve happened, feeling angry about how the crisis was being handled, and worried for clients, family, and friends.
The sudden and violent uncertainty of it all came in a rush that had my blood pressure up!
It was tough yet I could stay with the sensations I felt a bit longer, like I encourage clients to do. Doing that and simply breathing and paying attention, I noticed a tightening across my chest.
The thoughts came: would my husband and I get tired of each other with us both working from home? What will the impact of this self-isolation be on our professional connections?
Focusing more on my relaxed breaths and tuning into my body sitting upright in the chair, another series of questions appeared to me: What if all the stuff you do, that you call work, isn’t all that important?
For that matter, what is important to you in your work? What is the difference you’d like to be making? What if you could be an offer to the world in a new, maybe even bigger, way?
Today, with COVID 19, I’ve been able to listen more deeply to questions that I’ve overlooked. You can learn to do the same.
Questions like, what’s essential to know about a situation? What matters most? Who matters most? What do I need? My work mates? My family? What contribution can I make?
We don’t often notice the significance of all our connections – the barista that remembers our name and order, the woman at the gym who notices when we push a little harder, the co-workers with whom we love to share our newest discoveries (Tiger King, anyone?).
These relationships become just another part of our routine, until a pandemic hits and they’re gone without warning.
Only now does it seem obvious that we’re intricately intertwined, weaving ourselves together in both big and small ways, to form the tapestry our lives.
Value of Listening
Our listening shapes our sense of who we are, what’s possible, worthwhile, and what actions to take. We’re always listening, even if no one is speaking. When we’re alone, we’re listening to ourselves.
If we can deepen our listening, and extend it out in these four domains, we’ll come together to ride the waves of this global disruption.
Our collective Tomorrow will be determined by all us listening our way into
a new reality.