Island Blog 121 Listen to your ears

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When I hear something, I hear it.  I may respond distractedly, or with intense concentration.  I may not quite hear it for a few seconds, when a word or phrase yanks me back into the room, back beside the person who spoke and then I will ask them to say it all again.  In domestic situations, taking into account familial or relational baggage, I may find myself in the blast of a dismissive retort.

You never listen to me!  I’m not going to talk to you until you put down that mobile, laptop, dog,book, whatever!  Then follows a doggy-type following around, an apology (if you’re lucky), a plead to say it again, an ‘I AM listening, honest’…….sort of drama, which, if I am very lucky, ends well, although by this time, having pattered about whimpering and wagging my tail, I am so not interested anymore, even supposing whatever I didn’t listen to, on first delivery, could get me to the ball after all.

I have read much on the difference between hearing and listening, and, to be honest, am none the wiser, confusing the two whenever I deliver said difference in an astonishing phrase of pure wisdom.  Nobody has ever corrected me, confirming my suspicions that nobody else gets the difference either.  But I do know how critical it is to listen to what our children say and really hear it.  Really not hearing it is the root beginning of an immense baggage collection, guaranteed foreign holidays for psychiatrists, counsellors and mediums, and establishing once and for all that 90% of our troubles, self-doubts and hangups stem solely from our mother.

But what about those things I hear without actively listening?  Those words far off, lifted at random from another conversation, over there somewhere, that can float all by themselves into my head to settle on a comfy sofa, feet up, just waiting for the chance to rise into my concious mind.  I can read something in a book, or in the poetry of a hymn in church and, without consciously choosing to remember any of it, I find myself looking at it as I wake in the early morning, hearing it anew, and marvelling at the brilliance of my aging brain.  Because our senses are all linked by millions of little byroads, I might watch the movement of the clouds across a darkling sky and find words in my mouth and I don’t mean ‘Wow, look at THAT!’  It might be a line in a letter (does anyone remember the last letter that came through the post, with a stamp, licked by the writer and handed over by Amy the Post?) or it might be a phrase from the book I’m reading, or something someone said, but I don’t remember the time or the context.  Somehow, it fits in with the clouds and the darkling sky and again I am astonished at the incredible majesty of the human brain, even though we only ever tap into about a third of its potential.  Just think what we could do and who we could be, if we only knew how to build a mental motorway or, even just how we might repair the byroads already in place.  But we don’t, despite all that irritating knowledge that highlights our human lack.  Why do we have this immense brain in the first place?

As we grow older we begin, everso gradually, to lose the byroads we do have.  One by one, they give way to sprawling grasses, weeds and foliage that turns a shortcut into a wilderness.  Ok, we know this.  We might not like it much, losing our glasses ten times a day, forgetting an appointment made some time before, leaving the margarine out of the cake, and so on, but it a fact of life and we may as well find the dance in it.

My old granny, long dead but unforgettable, never lost her dance.  When it could no longer be found in her strong and shapely legs, or her long elegant feet, it was there in her eyes for all to see.  In a shop, at a bus stop, in her own little flat, she brought that dance forward at every encounter with every person from the Red Cross collector, shaking her bucket outside the door, to the doctor or the minister, although she was highly suspicious of the minister, to be honest.  Even in hospital, dying, she lifted her smile to every nurse, every orderly without exception, and she was no goody-goody I can tell you, being overly full of mischief and with a keen eye for the caricature.  It was for herself, she danced, not to be seen to be dancing, for she had little care for such vanities.

Listening to my ears is not really possible.  It makes little sense, suggesting that my ears have ears and, with a few large-eared exceptions, this seems an unlikelyhood.  But when my little grandson said it to me this morning as we walked through a lovely wild place, I realised I had heard what he said twice.  First, effortlessly, in the normal way, and then, again, as if I was hearing myself hearing.  It made me realise, as I considered this new phenomenon, that not only is there wisdom, beyond their understanding, falling from the mouths of babes, but that, if I really think it through, this is the only way to live.  If I do practise listening to my ears, I distance myself from an instant response, one that might cause an injury to another’s heart.  Words spoken in haste, fuelled by baggage, can wound and wound deep.  Words written in anger can live for a lifetime and beyond.  But if I can learn to close my trap (oh hallo mother) and to keep my ears (all of them) open, I not only allow words to settle in the sofas of my mind, gently; not only allow the moment to move beyond my clutches, however much my fingers itch to capture and internalise it, but, in those precious moments of mouth closed, ears open, I can hear, albeit distantly, the grace notes floating across the divide and find that my feet take up the dance.

Island Blog 71 – Letting Go

Island Blog 71

 

Yesterday I took some washing up to the line like a good island wife, in a stout breeze.

That is not an article of island clothing, by the way, but, instead, a good wind for drying things.

As I climbed up the little mosaic-ed garden steps, a bush erupted beside me.  I knew from the sound effects that this was a Blackbird Hoo-ha, at which Blackbirds are pretty good.  They can make one out of nothing with their alarm calls, causing an island wife to drop her laundry basket, tipping her husband’s undergarments into a flowerbed and requiring her to wash them all over again.

I stood still, my back against the wall, my husband’s undergarments safely within the confines of the basket, and waited for the drama to unfold.  For a few seconds, I and the blackbird family listened for each other, neither of us daring to make a sound.  I knew they would give in first, through their natural curiosity and also because time is of the essence for them.  Not so for me.  I could linger here all morning without a shred of embarrassment or guilt, but, then, I don’t have to learn to fly in order to keep a hold of my life.

Or do I?

Anyway, the male jumped out of the bush first, which is quite proper for a Father Protector, and he locked eyeballs with me and said something rather sharp and double syllabled.  I looked away, knowing that this removed me as a confrontational threat, and waited some more.  He chirruped at the bush and out bounced three youngsters – all bigger than their dad, followed by a rather ruffled mother

After a few aviation tips, he told them to get on with it, and led the way, landing on the apex of the roof.  Eventually they followed, but not without giving dad a whole load of lip about this flying thing and his overly high expectations of them.

This morning I noticed them all around the compost bin, which has overflowed with an excitement of worms, thus providing the family with three good meals a day plus healthy snacks.  How wonderful it is, I thought to myself, that this adult pair are likely to have pitched their nest around this very spot precisely because of the overflowing compost bin and the excitement of worms.  I wonder if we are clever with our own nest pitching – considering what is best for the family, and, then, moving if we find a danger too close at hand.  I doubt it somehow, not with all that mortgage angst and debts and work commitments, although none of that makes it right to be living in the wrong place.

At my little grand-daughter’s naming ceremony, the words for her, in poetry, promises and songs, offered gifts and wisdom and freedom.  She must learn from her parents, her guides and then be free to take that learning and shape it her own way.  We all want this and yet few of us get it or give it, not really.  Through our own fear, we try to keep hold, of our children, our friends.  How many of us ever listen to someone, anyone, announce their new plan, a completely bonkers and impossible one, in our opinion and make no comment whatsoever?  No word of caution, no opinion, saying something like this:-

Wow!  That sounds incredible?  How will you achieve that do you think?

And then listen and learn and encourage and only ever give opinion if asked.

Bet you can’t do it.  We are all jailors of someone in order to feel free.

Island Blog 24 – Many a Mile

Island Blog 24

(c) Jennifer Fairbairns

On the eve of a journey I get collywobbles.  That is a word, I just checked, although it not being a word, as in a dictionary word, would never stop me writing it.  Sometimes there is just no acceptable word or phrase to describe what I am feeling, or seeing and so I just make it up.

In my young days of being the Elocution Queen, propelling my voice, ‘Chin UP girl!’ with my neck pushed forward like a goose on the attack and all my tendons tight as telephone wires. I would have been upbraided by Miss Stuffy Drawers endlessly.  She of the stuffy drawers is long dead, bless her old heart, so I feel quite reckless these days when choosing my words.

Onomatopoeic, they are, in the main, and sounding like themselves, the way they feel.  I could waffle on about the colour of my feelings too, but I might lose you sensible readers who like to hear a regimental march in the laying down of prose, although nowadays anything goes.

Or does it?

I love language, any language, whether it be Spanish or street talk, even if I don’t understand one word, as long as it is spoken from the heart and not contrived.  Sometimes even the Queen’s English can sound contrived, if it is pompously delivered and devoid of feeling.  Words are music after all;  they have a rhythm, phrasing.  They need to convey both information and emotion, even if it is just giving someone directions to the station.

Which brings me neatly back to my collywobbles.

Tomorrow I fly.  Not with the geese, as I have always wanted to do, but with British Airways back up to Scotland.  I have, by mistake, booked an aisle seat so I won’t see any more than the back of someone’s head.  It’s not that I am fearful of flying, nor of a train bus or car journey, so I can’t really explain my inner state at all.  Perhaps it is just stepping away from what has become the norm for me.  Perhaps there is a frisson of anxiety about going back to whatever I am going back to.

How can I get back into the old routine?  Do I want to get back into the old routine?  Do I even have one?

And so on.

I felt this way starting a new school, or the first day of a new job, and there is a beauty in there somewhere if I can just lay my hands on it.  If I can rest in the process, if I can worry not, but trust that all is just as it should be and I am the only one who can do whatever I must do, then I will take each step mindfully and be inside the moment.

Holy men have learned themselves into such a state.  Hermits live alone for years to find it, this inner peace.  Material things will never be enough, however much I may think they are the solution.  Enlightenment is a personal journey, a quiet reflective one, one lived step by step, inch by inch, and all my anxieties do is rush me ahead of myself, into an imagined non-reality.

I met someone once who told me he was enlightened.  I fought back a snort.  If someone has to tell me he is enlightened, he is most definitely not.  No-one who has reached that state would ever feel the need to say a single word.

I obviously have miles to go.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

–        Robert Frost