Posts Tagged ‘listening’

A Mind Like Water

July 13, 2015

We read in Proverbs (14:30) “A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh.”

David Allen, author and consultant of “Getting Things Done” fame, talks about having a “mind like water.” That is actually a phrase he learned in Karate class that may come from Zen. The metaphor is of a pond of still water that absorbs the disturbance of a pebble or rock thrown in with the ripples gradually going away to nothing.

In Getting Things Done (all about personal productivity and effectiveness), this means writing down everything that you are holding in your head. Empty everything, every task, every commitment, everything you are trying to remember by writing it and putting it in a trusted space.

I’ve written before that I love Nozbe for doing this. It is a hard discipline to write things down. But when you empty your mind, you have “mind like water”–still, tranquil, waiting to handle the next disturbance.

James Altucher, a Silicon Valley investor, just wrote about productivity. He quoted Albert Einstein who once derisively stated, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk a sign of?” Altucher says, “that’s OK, Albert, I’d like an empty mind. That way I can fill it with what I choose.”

A tranquil mind means that I can concentrate on my Bible reading and other reading early in the morning.

A tranquil mind means that I can meditate with a clear focus on God far from all the distractions of clutter.

A tranquil mind means that I can come up with creative ideas for my business and my ministries.

As the wisdom teacher says, “A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh.”

Self-Criticism or Self-Justification

June 23, 2015

From the sayings of the Desert Fathers: We have abandoned the light yoke of self-criticism and put on the heavy yoke of self-justification.

How often do we read a proverb or a parable of Jesus and think, “This does not apply to me. I am OK. Never do that.” 

Worse, we read something and think, “Yes, I’ve done that, but….”

Criticism does not necessarily mean negative. It does mean dispassionate evaluation. The ability to put our mind outside ourselves, so to speak, and look at ourselves.

There was a time in my life where I think I had anger issues. I’d don’t remember clearly except for one incident. Maybe I was 10 or 11. I was fighting another kid in the neighborhood. Suddenly I saw myself from outside. It was a moment of epiphany. “What the heck am I doing?” I thought. I got up, quit, and became a personal pacifist from that moment forward.

Although the temper bred from insecurity still showed up from time to time. I can still remember the last time. With great shame, by the way. It was maybe seven or eight years ago. Maybe more. There’s a guy who can get under my skin. He did. I exploded. 

When I should have showed some anger I chose to look at the big picture and let it pass. There was no win.

That thought process is self-criticism. I’m not justifying by saying that person was at fault. I was aware. I didn’t act appropriately. It’s all on me.

Do you know people who have no concept of self-criticism? Especially people with narcissistic tendencies have trouble looking at themselves.

Ask a narcissist, “Don’t you seem to think of yourself first?”, and they will reply, “Yes, of course” as if to say, “Duh.”

I have met these–and even asked the question. And received the answer.

According to a recent study, the best way to get beyond this attitude is to listen–really listen–to others. Hemmingway once said, “When you listen, listen completely. Most people don’t listen.”

As I teach Yoga, I remind the class to listen to their bodies and minds. I want them to become self-aware. That is the first step toward developing the ability to look at ourselves critcally and reward ourselves for steps in the right direction and pull ourselves back onto the right track.

Put on the light yoke of self-criticism. Check your mind and body frequently.

Conversation With God

May 26, 2015

I sit and try to meditate opening up myself to an experience with God. My thoughts distract me. 

I refocus, breathe deeply and regularly. Focus on God (I repeat the word to maintain my focus). My thoughts distract me.

Eventually I think, “I’m having the same thoughts. They keep repeating on me.”

That’s when it finally dawns on me–maybe, just maybe, God is trying to tell me something. Perhaps I’d better explore those thoughts. Maybe he’s telling me to do something. Or call someone. Or prepare for an adventure.

Mostly, we are not taught to pray. Or, we are taught in the way of prayer during a church service, or the beginning of a class, or grace for meal. It is us talking, usually aloud, to God. We’re usually asking for something. Or complaining about something. Or ordering him around to get him to do what we want him to do.

But what if we listened?

There are people I have met who believe that God doesn’t talk anymore. It may have happened to Elijah. Maybe to Jesus. Maybe even to Paul. But, not anymore.

I feel sorry for those people. What is it that they are missing out on because they have not paused and listened.

What does God want from us in prayer? What he wants in general–a relationship. When you converse with someone with whom you’re in a relationship–unless you’re a complete narcissist–you expect the other to listen to you and you listen to them. That would be a conversation.

What will it be like when God says, “I’ve been telling you that for years!”

Practice Active Listening

April 9, 2015

Neurotic president of the company, “Gary, nobody listens to me.” Smarta** VP, “Huh?” President, “Nobody listens to me.” VP, “Huh?” President, “Nobody listens to me.” VP, “Huh?” President, “Ohhhhh.”

Being the Church Not Necessarily Being At Church

February 24, 2015

For those of my readers who belong to a church, do you know the people who seem to always be in the building whenever the doors are open?

Some people have been so dedicated, or something, to their church that they feel they must be involved in everything. Committee meetings, choir practice, kitchen duty, fold bulletins.

There is a value to some of that. But, at some point you have to pause and ask why you feel the need to be away from the family that much. Or, maybe like me, you just feel a need to serve. That makes it difficult for me to say the “N” word–NO. I’m learning. I’ve been pushing things off on others in one form or another for years. I call it developing leaders.

When we were called to be the church, we were not called to be at the church at all times. The spiritual discipline of service should not be skewed into service within the four walls of your building. In fact, it’s hard to be the church when you are at the church building.

Being the church calls outside. To meet with those along the way. Heal, teach, help, listen. Do as Jesus did as he walked the land. He is master; we are disciple. We are called to practice as the master practiced.

Our congregation offers many ways for people to be the church locally, regionally, internationally. But even that should not be a limit. Wherever we go, there  we are the church.

Practice Active Listening

January 12, 2015

We are in a series of practices to start off your 2015 and deepen your spiritual and relational experiences.

Today, let’s consider listening.

“When you listen, listen completely. Most people don’t listen,” said Mark Twain.

“You can hear a lot just by listening,” Yogi Berra added.

When you are in a conversation, what are you doing?

Most people are thinking about what they are going to say when there is a pause. Or they are talking over the other person. Arguing, even.

When you are at a conference or in church listening to the message, what are you thinking? Dozing off?

We need to engage with the speaker. The practice is active listening. The first thing is where you’re looking. Focus your eyes on the speaker. What is the posture, eye contact (or lack), gesture? Communication is a “full-contact” sport.

In a personal conversation, focus on an eye. If there is much ambient noise, I alternate focus on eyes and mouth so that I can “see” the words coming, too. I’m listening to the person with all my senses.

Rather than trying to come up with a better story, try to think of questions to draw out more information and engagement.

In a large setting, take notes. You may never refer to the notes again. The very act of note taking, though, keeps you alert and focusing on the speaker.

For 2015, let’s develop our active listening skill.


Listen For Healing

December 18, 2014

Trait of listening to people for healing; listening to God in preparation.

This comment just popped up in some notes I was reviewing. I have no idea where it came from. No idea what the context was. But, it’s interesting, isn’t it?

We’re in Advent, so preparation is on my mind. Much had to be prepared for Jesus arrival. Before conception, Mary had to be prepared. She had to listen to God’s messenger and pay attention.

After conception, Joseph had to be prepared. He, also, had to listen to a messenger of God.

This was listening in preparation. They each had to listen and then act.

But in the story, Zechariah and Elizabeth also had to listen and act. They were important, too. And their son, John, had also to listen (to his parents we presume) and then act.

Our challenge this week is to also listen. What words or thoughts are God whispering into our consciousness?

Then I thought about the healing part.

Who listens? Who talks?

Perhaps we need someone to listen to us. This is a time of year of great stress. There are all the holidays–gifts, parties, family. Also winter is coming on (here in the Northern Hemisphere). That stresses many.

Who do we have that will listen to us? Who will give a comforting word?

Or turn it around. Who needs us to listen to them? Do we realize just how much healing we can do by listening? That would be active listening, paying attention to the words, the feelings, the thoughts between the words. Understanding. Empathizing. Comforting. Praying.

Listening. Preparation. Healing. Comforting. Valuable Spiritual Disciplines.

My Eyes Have Seen The Glory

December 10, 2014

“for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Luke 2

When did old people cease being wise? Or did they?

Simeon was an old guy. He was devout. He was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was one of the group of Jews at the time who longed for God to reveal His glory just like He did to Moses and Joshua, just like His glory filled the Temple that Solomon built.

My bet is that he went up to the Temple (which was not filled with the glory of God) daily to pray and watch.

One day he saw that for which he’d been waiting his entire life. Joseph and Mary brought a baby to the Temple for dedication, since he was the firstborn son.

He said he could now die in peace for he had finally seen the salvation, the glory of God.

Through Jesus, the Jewish hope of the glory of God visiting them again was fulfilled. Through Jesus, Gentiles who probably never had heard of the One God, YHWH, who was the creator of the universe, would now see that God.

Today, as in every generation since, we grow up hoping for the glory and salvation of God to visit us.

In Advent, we re-create the waiting of Simeon. Hoping to see the coming of that light, that glory of God. This re-creating of images and stories is how we learn and experience God. Old people are often the bearers of those stories. Listen to them.

Prayer–Slow Down and Listen

October 16, 2014

“Most conversations are a monologue with witnesses.” (Attributed to Mark Twain.)

Is your prayer life like that?

Yesterday I wrote about meditation and contemplation. The foundation of both is to slow down our busy brains and focus. The direct or indirect focus is on God.

Jesus showed his followers an example at the Temple one time. There was a religious man standing in a conspicuous place praying loudly so as to assure that everyone knew that he was a religious man praying. Then there was a “sinner” who was kneeling alone apart from others, praying. Jesus said that those who pray with many fine words get their reward there. The other man got his reward from God.

Even if you don’t practice daily meditation or contemplation in the strict sense of the words, it pays great dividends to pause and sit quietly between all the words you say.

It’s not that it’s wrong to pray in words. Or to pray publicly when the occasion warrants. But as a daily practice, praying with no more words than necessary to the One who knows already what’s on your heart is much more freeing. Then to stop and listen heaps benefits upon the soul.

Often when I pray alone, I sit in silence and just picture the person or situation in my mind and focus my energy and attention on them. My heavenly Father knows. I’m just adding my spirit. Focusing on others.

It’s OK to focus on yourself, too. Just not exclusively. Once again a friend told me of the power that has come to him simply by praying that God lead someone into his life. Trust me, it’s uncanny.

I can think back over the past years of my life and identify many times when God eventually answered my prayers-usually when he knew I was ready and that the proper opportunity was presented.

Failure To Communicate

September 4, 2014

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw.

Ever tell your child to do something and it doesn’t happen? “Well, I thought you said…,” was the reply.

What about miscommunication with spouse or significant other? You thought you said….

I write to international audiences. In fact, this blog has readers in England, Ireland, Germany, India, China, Australia, Italy and more. Even in the English-speaking countries, there are nuances in the language that could change meaning.

I just finished a column that will be published in an Italian manufacturing magazine. Educated Europeans have been taught English. But it’s British English. I think about that when I write. Many know American colloquialisms, but I don’t want to assume that knowledge. I choose words very carefully.

The worst thing in a conversation, whether personal or in a meeting or wherever, is that you think the other person or people understood you. It is best to consider your words. It also good to ask questions to confirm understanding.

It is so easy to cause unnecessary conflict and hurt when your communication goes through a filter on the other end that changes your meaning into something else.

Above all else, strive for clarity in your communications.