Close Mouth, Open Heart.


Photo credit: Sarah McKenzie, artiste
Peace Love Happiness. Photo credit: Lindsay McKenzie, artiste
Have you ever been sitting in yoga class with your legs folded neatly beneath you, eyes closed and hands pressed together in prayer, when suddenly your beloved yoga teacher says: “Keep your heart open.”

And did you ever wonder, “how the heck do I do that?”

This happens to me on a regular basis whether on the yoga mat, listening to Pema Chödron for the one hundredth time or sitting with meditation friends. Keep your heart open, the wise ones say.

Wait. Stop! How?

I’m always looking for real-world, in-the-moment ways to accomplish this heart-opening feat. Over the holiday season, as I was contemplating meaningful Christmas gifts and New Year’s Resolutions, a few ideas worked their way into my consciousness:

  • Don’t Interrupt
  • Say Maybe, not No
  • Mind Your Own Business
  • Live Uncomfortably
  • Catch the Hook

This is the story of the first one: Don’t interrupt.

It began one evening after dinner. We were sitting around the dining room table with our teacups and ice cream, my daughters and I listening as my husband shared a lively story about racing his little sailboat.

Right in the middle of it, I turned to my older daughter and asked “Did you get in touch with the cheerleading coach about rescheduling tumbling classes?”

My husband stopped talking and looked at me. A beat passed. I blinked.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I interrupted you.”

He didn’t say anything, but I can guess what he was thinking. Again. You interrupted me again.

Now, in fairness, when my husband starts talking he can go for a good twenty minute stretch without taking a break. He loves to tell stories and share his opinions and that is one of the reasons I love him. On the other hand, anxious soul that I am, I get tired of waiting for my turn to speak.

Except that, really, I could wait.

I could wait.

How novel.

And that’s when it dawned on me, what a lovely gift that would be: the gift of not interrupting. Immediately, my mind envisioned  a series of hand-written promises I could give him wound into little scrolls. That would be the first one: I promise not to interrupt you when you’re talking…. and if I forget, I will owe you twenty-minutes worth of foot massage.

It is harder to do than you would think, this not-interrupting. We have this tendency, we humans, to formulate responses while listening to others talk. And, if you think about it, that’s not really listening at all, is it? It’s certainly not giving our full attention to someone. So, Don’t Interrupt includes “Catch yourself formulating responses” and also “Listen with your full attention” and how about going one step further and “Make yourself reflect back what you just heard.” And no, I don’t mean winding yourself up and repeating words back verbatim, I mean making an effort to understand and appreciate what’s been said. Yes, this is old school, one of the 8 Sterling Qualities of Marriages that Last, or some other weighty self-help tome.

Roll your eyes if you must. All I know is that we read that stuff, nod our heads knowingly, and then promptly don’t do it. Why would we? It’s way easier to point the finger at the other guy and say “you’re a lousy listener.”

Maybe we need to point that finger in the other direction. I caution you though: this approach goes against our natural tendencies (okay, my natural tendencies). You’ll have to suppress the urge to jump in, to correct, to offer your opinion. But I’m willing to bet we might learn something, and that this equation might actually work: Shut mouth + Open Mind = more Open Heart. Don’t Interrupt.

And who knows: maybe it will be contagious.

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