Fierce Patience- Embodied Listening, Fierce Attention

Embodied listening is a practice that can help you balance yourself within a conflict, allow more joy into your life, and inherently leads to relationships with more empathy and understanding.  It may also allow you to get out of a sticky situation.

Caring for what matters to you, especially when in love or in a long term friendship, can be difficult when it comes into conflict with what is available inside of the relationship.  Listening and attending is a way of connecting to what matters to you and giving it a form – a vehicle for communication and an active engagement with what is happening in a given moment.  It may not lead to a conversation, especially if the person you are in relationship is not available.  But at least you know what you are feeling and can let that matter.

Caring about our needs and wants, we must be fiercely patient.  If I am not fiercely patient, I usually find myself patiently depressed, or otherwise I am just agitated.  Those kind of bodily states worked for me as a teenager (kind of), but they don’t work for me now- except as taking them as signals to listen and slow down because something is clearly in the way of my sense of balance.  I don’t want them to go on for too long;  I’d like to listen and act accordingly so to return to a sense of ease as quickly as possible.  I find that I have to be fierce with myself – not hard on myself, not aggressive in relationship to my feelings – but fierce in attention so to catch what is happening and do something with it.

Acting out frustration and angst is common when we don’t have the words or ability to communicate what it is that we need.  I like opening up to possibilities of being met, being heard, and at the very least, I want to know what it is that I need or want and to have a deep relationship with those parts of myself.  I may not be able to talk to that friend, but I can hold my disappointment with tenderness, and find a way to befriend myself.

Being the driver of my needs and wants is much more satisfying, even though it is challenging.  Taking the risk it can take in order to feel good in relationship to my life is worth the energy it takes, because each moment feels more alive.

I prefer to not just be agitated, but to see what my agitation might be a signal of.  This takes practice.

For instance,

  • someone may want something from me that I don’t know how to give – common in the workplace and in loving connection with another.  Or,
  • with someone who is not doing what I would like them to be doing – common with children, partners, and life in general.
  • and in particular, when I feel that wave of “uh oh, there’s a conflict here” with a friend or partner.  What they want or wanted is different than what I want or wanted.  Someone, or both people, are hurting or angry all at the same time.

Being able to stay in contact and not run for the hills takes embodied listening, and a ferocity of attention.  To return to oneself, takes being fiercely patient with the parts of us who want to scream, hit, run, shut another person up, and be able to pause.  It takes the risk of being present in the face of it all.

Being able to listen and stay in contact absolutely needs a kind of patience.  Having patience is not a kind of disconnecting.  It is not a kind of waiting.  It is not inhibiting or pressing down on what is important to you.  It is a kind of attention to what matters in a given moment.  It is a life-giving action.  It is being kind to yourself, and it can also feel fierce because there is an aliveness to it – an attention to what you need and want in order to feel good or to love more.

Just like a garden, we must water and nurture, tend to and communicate to our relational gardens, and stay in connection with ourselves along the way. The more we disconnect from what a relationship needs to survive, the more dry and lifeless it becomes- to the point of potentially losing a relationship all together.   The more we ignore the signals that our bodies send through its various contractions and yearnings, the more disconnected and out of control things can seem.  Without listening, we are lost in a bunch of noise and “going-on-doings” of the mundane life.

Without pause during a conflict, we say things that hurt people we love; we can do something that causes us shame, or perhaps get us fired or broken up in some way.  These actions take way more time to clean up than the pause, stop, and listen would have taken.

When we are restless, its as if the body is wrestling with itself.  I experience agitation and impatience as the same thing: Something is trying to gain my attention.  If I ignore it, I am inhibiting my body’s self-defense mechanism, the signals my body is sending to me for its own survival.  What needs to be said can live on inside of us as impatience, agitation, or apathy, but unless we say it somehow, it lives on somehow.  We all have learned various ways to bury ourselves under pressure or space out and disconnect as a way of coping with life, and hopefully, some ways to just let go and enjoy some ease. Wrestling internally is felt in states of anxiety and agitation, frustration and confusion.  I’d do just about anything to get out of that state, like laughing at myself at the very least – but laughter is not always available when something is really important.

I don’t want to just cope with my life.  I want to be actively, and receptively alive.  So alive that I am able to rest because things feel so good.  Not because I am just exhausted from the fight of it all.

Learning to attend and listen is a way of unwinding throughout the day.  It is a way to establish a sense of security.  When we are safe, we can rest.  When a relationship is nurtured, it can keep itself alive through the ebb and flow of connecting to oneself, and then to another.

Especially at the end of what feels like a courageous conversation, after the “Uh oh’s,” and after the conflict has had its time to untangle itself through the practice of fierce patience together, the patience of holding something dear softens into connection together.  We turn towards each other in order to meet each other honestly, to hold what matters to us so to show the other, patiently, courageously, while taking turns listening and receiving what the other has to say.  This sense of receiving of is the body of patience.  The bonds of love are rekindled, the body softens, I can giggle again, and the current of the relationship feels fluid and open.  Trust is reestablished.

The combination of what it means to be fierce and patient is a powerful engagement that softens me when I am hurting or angry, but also allows my needs and wants to matter.  It forces me to not give up on what it important, to not let someone dismiss what I am saying when what I am saying needs to be heard.

Being fiercely patient is a way of making my life and relationship a place of deep care and a loving place to live within.

In order to listen, however, I must be fiercely attentive in order to both know what is going on with me, and also have room for what is undoubtedly going on in the mind and heart of another.  It allows me to see someone else’s care in the midst of a fight, or, their inability to listen to me in this moment.  If I listen, and respond to these messages, I experience more ease in the long run.  In order to listen when in a conversation where something really matters to me (like someone I love), I have to learn how to stay in contact with myself.

I love this person, and if I want the relationship to survive, I must be fierce with myself and all of my reactive tendencies.

Don’t get me wrong here – I care about my well being, so if I a circumstance is unsafe or feels terrible, it may take some ferocity to leave.  It will take patience to ask, “Do we need to pause this conversation for a time when you are more available?”  If it is the time to have a conversation, I may need the fierce patience to stay when the tension rises so that I find the words that actually matter.  I may need to return (especially if I live with the person!).  I cannot just leave the conversation and start to text or attend to a work call, or suddenly walk out of the room if I care to attend to the relationship as though it  is something that I want.  Now, if I do not want to be in a relationship, attending to that is what matters.

Certainly there are people I care about and I cannot have a conversation with, that if I were merely patient with as a way of coping, I might drive myself up a wall.  I need fierce patience with myself in the face of something harmful to me. I need to be fierce with my needs and wants and give them the attention they need.

The point is having the ability and where-with-all to pause, listen, and then form an action that is needed for my well being, and the well being of my relationship with what is around me.  In a committed relationship, that usually means finding a way to return – barring abusive or neglectful relationships, where it may be life-giving for to leave, and be gentle with yourself as you do so.

Returning to myself is the first priority; to know where I am in the midst of it all.  It takes fierce patience to do that. It’s the ferocity in me that is attentive to the sensations and thoughts I am having but also gives me time to listen.  It allows me to find love (for myself, or for another) in times when it feels like love just got sucked up in a vacuum somewhere.  It allows me to lower my voice so I can be heard and received.  If I am with someone I love, being fiercely patient allows me to remember that in times of distress or conflict.  Most of all, it gives me a moment to find myself. Then I can volunteer myself for contact, for actions or conversations that are needed.

Fierce patience is a way of sustaining connection with myself while I am in relationship to others.

Tune in for my series on Ye olde Patience: “Shut up and wait” Transforming, Transformed, and Onward.