I was shocked when I discovered that babies cry through the night. Of course I'd heard babies cry- but that was somebody else's problem. And I could return to my frothy cappucino and my book, whenever I wanted. But when I became a young Dad, aged 22-, and a student at Edinburgh university- my world turned up-side down. "Is this legal? Can I really be woken at intervals throughout the entire night?." It felt like torture. When my second daughter was born my wife suffered severe post-natal depression- and night duties became my responsibility. My daughter slept in bed with me for her first year. Because I was worried I'd roll on her, I transformed a drawer into a tiny bed- it was cosy and warm. That's where Freya slept- in a drawer, next to her Dad.
Those sleepless nights challenged our marriage. My wife and I bickered- we resented and blamed each other. We were exhausted, young and foolish- somehow we survived 21 years together. I only wish we'd learned this secret earlier.
It would have saved us needless bother and frustration. If only we'd learned to listen.
Listening is the secret weapon that ends the war. Listening is the 5G upgrade. Listening is the top of the range Teslar.
Listening is the tool that builds connection. Through listening we connect with: 1) Ourselves -we hear what's going on for us and begin to understand our wishes and fears. When we notice our frustration or fear- we can begin to respond rather than react. We create endless difficulties for ourselves through knee jerk reactions. Go for a walk, have a bath, meditate- how are you feeling? What's going on in there?
2)Our Partners. Many marriages and relationships are wrecked by misunderstanding and blame. These easily rot the woodwork of your love. But when we listen we create the space for love to breathe.
3) Our Children. Our children need to feel accepted, unconditionally loved and valued- and not for anything they do- but for who they are. When you offer your listening heart to your child- it's like sunshine-. The warmth and appreciation they need- in order to grow. You can reassure your child, and build a wonderful connection simply by listening.
But like breathing, and our ability to walk- we take listening for granted. We imagine that we are excellent listeners. The bad news- we are not. The good news- we can choose to learn!
Here are some ways of developing this vital skill.
1) Join a group. A men's group. (I joined Mankindproject). A women's group, or a 12 step programme. Groups that foster speaking and listening are amazing places to re-discovery the power of listening.
2)Create a listening partnership with a friend. This is cheap and easy- all you need is a phone. For 3 years I've had a weekly phone call with a friend- we follow some simple guidelines and take it in turns to 'lead the session.' We begin with a few minutes silence where we 'check-in' with the feelings and sensations of the body. Next we speak without being interrupted about what's urgent, alive, or vital for us. We are listened to without interruption, comment or interpretation. We are accepted, received, valued for who we are, not what we do. The partner who was silent, then reflects back what what was said. Avoiding interpretation. We swap roles. To finish we discuss images and themes in common. I am refreshed by this conversations- lighter, relaxed, softer.
3) See a councillor- explain that you want to learn simple listening skills.
The best things in life are free. Listening is free- listening is the key to building connection- with ourselves, with our partners and with our children. Do yourselves a favour.