The Body Electric

The Body Electric: Day Three

Yesterday, as the sunset just begins to flare over the mountains, I pull up to a favorite coffee shop.  I am smiling — the anticipation of being with good people always makes me smile — but before I step out of the car, I take a breath and focus.

Listen, I tell myself.

And then I say it like a prayer:

Lord, teach me how to listen.

*

Inside the coffeehouse, it’s warm, and there’s a pleasant hum of talk and music, with the coffee grinder roaring in the background.  That hum forms a safe little envelope for talking, so that a person can feel heard but not feel exposed.  I find a comfortable table bisected by a beam of solid gold sunlight, and I sit so that the light can warm my hands as I clutch my coffee cup:

listen2 

I wait for my girlfriend to show up, and as I do, I tell myself again:

Just listen.

*

Every now and again, I’ll have someone tell me that I’m a good listener.  This always surprises me, because I’m such an intensely visual person that listening is hard work for me.

And so, whenever I sit down at a poetry reading or lecture, switch on a podcast or pick up a phone, I have to make a very intentional decision to stop looking and thinking and just take it all in.

And more and more, I’m learning that that takes all of me.

*

Maybe, like me, you learned in elementary school that looking was something you did with your eyes.  That listening was something you did with your ears.  

Maybe that’s a massive oversimplification.

Because yesterday, when my girlfriend arrives, I feel myself leaning in to what she is telling me, and I realize that I’m trying to listen to her with my whole body.

As she speaks, I’m nodding.  I’m tilting my head and my shoulders toward her, over the table — literally aiming my whole skeleton toward her words.

I’m watching the direction of her glances, the way she arranges her hands, the way she touches her hair.  I’m decoding a thousand little messages at once, and pairing them mentally with the words that she’s speaking.  And then I’m saying something back — not just with my mouth, but with my own glances, my own hands.

And somehow, as if by magic, all these little physical gestures and silences combine to make a safe place where my friend can unspool a difficult story right there in front of me.

Where two humans aren’t just talking, but — for a brief moment — understanding each other…

Which is really a kind of alchemy, when you think about it. ❤

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