When we think we know.

Several years ago, in one of the first yoga teacher trainings I took with Rodney Yee, he said something that I never forgot. It went something like this (I can’t quote him as I don’t remember the exact way he said it), it’s when we think we know, it gets dangerousHe was talking about our physical practice, but this is true for most things in life, including relationships with family and friends. Which is what has been on my mind lately.
The reason behind his statement is simple, although we might not be aware of it. When we think that we get something, know something, we close down. We are not open anymore and we literally stop listening. Which means we can not take anything else in. The yoga practice helps us empty ourselves , so to spend time in the “unknown”, the realm beyond knowing. Then we can experience life for what it is, and not through our interpretation based on the past. But Rodney was helping us to see how easy it is to close down, even when we have the best intentions on the mat.

Our brain naturally goes back and finds any memories of our own experiences when we have an encounter with something. Be it a yoga pose we have done before, or be it a friend who is sharing an experience in their life. This is how the mind functions and it helps us to relate, have compassion and connect with others. But it can also get in our way, just as other automatic processes in our thinking mind. And as always, if we have the awareness how this naturally takes place, we can choose not to let it do so.  In this case it means that we can truly listen to someone else, and be completely open to their experience, instead of pasting our own experiences, feelings and emotions onto it. Which is so easy to do. I know it myself from both sides. How quickly the mind will make me think that I know what someone else is going through if I myself have had a similar experience. It can be smaller everyday things or more substantial, like going through a separation, being diagnosed with cancer or loosing a loved one.

If we are not aware how the mind pulls us right back into our own memories, it’s incredibly easy, in just a split second, to think that we have a clear picture of what our friend is experiencing. At this time a couple of things often take place. We don’t ask what it’s actually like for them, because we think we know. And we often make comments that can be hurtful or bring a sense of separation, instead of connection, for our friend. I know that experience as well, and I know you do too.

I try to remember that even if I have gone through something that on the surface looks very similar to what someone else is experiencing, they are not having the same experience as I did. That would be impossible, as there are so many variables. Sure, there will be similarities, and those offer up the opportunity to connect, but there will also be many differences. And this is what I look  to remember so that I can listen to their experience, instead of unconsciously trying to make it match mine. I want to actually hear them. That way I can hold space for them and their experience. I want to listen so I might be able to understand, or not. And as we all know, when life is hard, most of all we need to share and voice the pain, so not to feel alone with it.  Most of the time we don’t need advice or opinions.

I look to enter this New Year with a more open mind and heart, to listen completely.
“When people talk, listen completely. 
Most people never listen.”
Ernest Hemingway