Relationship Begins with Listening


All those years
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening…
– David Whyte

One of the things I find most disturbing about the holidays is that there seems to be so little time for relationships. I know this is ironic since the winter holidays are supposed to be the time of peace, goodwill, and fellowship. But every year despite my best intentions, I end up feeling drained, exhausted, and somewhat alienated by the frenzied activities that begin with Thanksgiving and at least in the Christian tradition, quickly move into Christmas and New Years, finally culminating in the Feast of the Epiphany.

Each year in January my husband and I promise ourselves that we “will do something different next year.”  We fantasize that we will take a trip somewhere and spend the holiday together free from the obligation of giving and receiving gifts, the Christmas parties, and the kinds of Christmas festivities that require hours of preparation on everybody’s part, but often end after two or three hours of chaos, leaving many of us feeling a bit numb, distracted, and somehow disappointed.

But opting out is not so easy to do, because there is a longing in my heart to really be with all the good folks who are kind enough to include me in their parties, remember me with a gift, and make me a part of their Christmas dinners. And I am truly grateful to those who grace my home with their presence during the holidays.  So when it comes right down to it I can never make the decision not to be with those I love during the holidays. My longing for connection is too strong.

Now in the newness of January I vow that things will be different next year; the externals of the holidays probably won’t change much but I can be different in a way that will foster a sense of belonging and relationship instead of disappointment and alienation. David Whyte’s poem “The Winter of Listening”
provides me with my own epiphany: listening is the key to relationship. Whyte’s poem reminds me “how easily [I] can belong to everything simply by listening.”

January is the month that wraps us in cold and often a sort of grey silence. It gives us the gift of slowing down in order to gain perspective. Elsewhere in the same poem, Whyte announces, “Inside everyone is a great shout of joy waiting to be born.” I am the midwife to this joy when I stop to really listen to the one I am with.  At every party, in every gift there is the longing that each of us has for connection. What a gift we bring to each other when we slow down and listen. The crowded holiday party becomes a sacrament the moment that one of us turns to another with a listening heart.

The best part of this resolution is that I can begin now. Fr. Laurence Freeman reminds me “the act of listening is faith.”  He goes on to say, “that listening “centers us in the true Self through the free choice we make to listen to something deeper than the ego’s doubts, opinions, and arguments.”

David Whyte’s poem amplifies Fr. Freeman’s statement in these lines that can be a prayer for each of us in this new year:

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.