The best laid plans of mice and men…

Six children sitting around my kitchen table colouring in. How did this happen?

Six children, busy and happy.

Six children, busy and happy.

I’m on a break from full-time work.I haven’t written anything for weeks. I have hundreds of unread emails.  My friends are being neglected. There’s gardening to be done, boxes to be sorted and emptied, an entire house waiting to be painted, my “to do”  list is endless… and six children colouring in. Yes, I’m babysitting one of them, but six! In my living room? How did this happen?

The day began with no commitments. Hours stretched before me, waiting to be filled. My co-houser would be away for several hours. Space.  Solitude. Quiet.  I could sit, I could write, I could ponder and dream, let my thoughts meander.

Knock on the door:

Could I babysit for a couple of hours?

Of course, after all one of my priorities is creating community, building networks and providing support. I am committed to putting the ideal into practice. As my father would say “putting my money where my mouth is.” I’m good at the mouth bit. So, babysit? One child? Couple of hours? Sure. No problem.

However, it is school holidays and there are other children who live close. One child became three, became four… five… six. A mention of colouring in to the youngest and soon all six had joined in. I mentioned find-a words, mental arithmetic exercises, spelling … as long as I provided sheets, they would  do them.

These children wanted school! They were bored, they had nothing to do,their mothers were either at work, or recovering from late shifts. This little gang were wandering around the street, looking for entertainment or something to occupy them and an adult to supervise. I sympathise and remember my own childhood with much gratitude.

I grew up in a village. Our house was on a hill sloping steeply down to a river. Other houses were scattered between paddocks. I climbed trees, built cubbies, fished in one of the creeks and wandered about. There was a house with space under it’s verandah post where we left pieces of moss and flowers for the fairies. And I read books, any book I could lay my hands on. I had a favourite spot in the pepper tree where I could lie back and read- soft breeze, birds, the smell of the pepper tree and endless time. Adults were not part of it. No one supervised us. We never complained of being bored.

184There were jobs. I had younger brothers and a sister to keep an eye on; there was  washing up and clothes to be hung out and brought in, chooks, ducks and geese to be fed, sometimes a cow and a calf,  but in my memory it’s one long sunny day that went on forever.

These children in my street have nothing like I had. There are paddocks to roam in and trees they can climb, but they aren’t  accessible. Most are in someone’s backyard and children aren’t welcome. Ride your bike up and down? Gets boring after a while. Read a book???  Reading is becoming a lost art and the little one can’t read.

I send my co-houser to the shops as soon as she drives in – bread rolls and sausages, let’s feed the mob.

My neighbour returns home and I feed her. The children leave, reluctantly and slowly. I feel torn. I would like to continue to entertain them, but I don’t have endless time to give them. We’ve gardened earlier, searched for grubs and I have things I must do.

kindnessThe day ends. I haven’t crossed much off my list. I had no time to sit and dream but I have given. I have chosen to give my time, my attention and my compassion.  Perhaps this counts for more than time for myself. Perhaps I am learning about priorities of lasting value. And perhaps this is an opportunity to practise acceptance, acceptance of what is.

 

 

Listening would change the world

I believe with my whole heart, that if we were to practise the skill of active listening we could change the world. Just think about it. Simply by being given the gift of active listening people would feel heard and validated; conflicts would be far fewer because we would truly understand what the other was saying; sometimes if we ourselves were truly heard we would be helped to understand what it was that we wanted to say.

Now this is coming from an accomplished chatterbox. I’m one of the world’s talkers. However, learning the skill of active listening transformed my life. I was no longer totally intimidated by situations. I knew I could always simply reflect back what I had heard. And when I am focused I can choose to offer to the other the gift of true listening. I don’t always talk! When was the last time you truly felt heard? You know that, in your gut, this person has heard what I have to say and may even have helped you to understand yourself better?

One of my favourite things is to teach Communication Skills. Having some of those skills has empowered and enabled me. It is thrilling to share them and watch as light dawns for people. However, it is not simple. I have found that one of the most challenging things for most people is to listen and simply reflect back what they have heard, without giving advice. It seems to be hardwired into our systems to give advice. Maybe it comes from a need to make things better, I don’t know, or maybe we don’t want to feel bad. You think about it- do you want someone to tell you what to do? Or do you want someone to truly hear you? My bristles go up the instant I start being told what I should do, unless I’ve asked for help and that’s completely different. And here I feel I need to apologise to my friends for the endless times I still fall into the trap of giving them unnecessary advice. All we need to do is, listen.

This poem says it all: Listen

When I ask you to listen to me and you start giving me advice you have not done what I asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I should not feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen to me and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have failed me, strange as that may seem. Listen! all I ask is that you listen. Not talk or do- just hear me. Advice is cheap: 50 cents will give you both Dorothy Dix and Dr Spock in the same newspaper. And I can DO for myself; I’m not helpless. Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not helpless. When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and weakness. But when you accept as a simple fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I quit trying to convince you and can go about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling. And when that’s clear the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice. So. please listen and just hear me, and if you want to talk, wait a minute for your turn; and I’ll listen to you. Anonymous.