4. learning when to listen

There is a space in which we create for ourselves an emotionless void, where nothing feels Simple OR Good.

You’ll know it when you find yourself paralyzed at the keyboard with nothing to say, when all you’ve wanted to do all day is sit down and have this moment to speak. Pretty soon, the phone comes out, a song is played, a finger begins to scroll.

For me, these periods of inaction come when I’ve been trying and thinking too hard. I’ve read too much. I’ve listened to too many voices. I’m stuck in a cycle of comparison and ineptitude. I have nothing new to say because every thought in my head belongs to someone else. I feel envy towards those who “do it better,” when if I actually did what I claimed I wanted to do, I might do it better, too. 

The truth is, I get tired of listening to myself – the swirling negative thoughts in my head whispering “too quiet” or “not enough” or “lose weight” or “brighten up.” I get so tired that I turn to other noises and preoccupations that have nothing to do with me.

It’s easy to say that the proper response to this dilemma is to turn it all off. The late-night conversations, the Instagram captions, the diversity of podcasts, the page-turning collection of essays. Off. Silence. Quiet. No.

But sitting alone, in utter silence, feels impossible in a world where we are programmed not to waste a minute.

During my time in Paducah a few weeks ago, I forced myself to listen to nothing but that which was around me. From the voices of people in the street below my window, to the sounds of the river lapping up against the rocks lacing the Riverwalk, I did nothing but listen. And, for the first time in a long time, I really began to hear myself.

Sitting alone in our 3rd story penthouse Airbnb, I spoke the words aloud as I wrote them. I conversed with myself. We had a great time together. Netflix, podcasts, and text messages were all left waiting. And it was kind of great to know I didn’t need them.

I did a lot of hand-writing, too. It was a nice change from sitting at my computer, where endlessly open tabs tend to provide a nearly subconscious distraction.

It was the privacy of writing with pen and paper that allowed my thoughts and feelings to flow with such ease that I could hardly keep up with them. But it felt good. It felt pure. It took away the need for purpose and perfection and allowed me to truly listen to what was going on inside. It allowed me to hear myself. 

There’s a difference between black-holing into yourself and setting yourself free on the page. When I let those thoughts cycle and churn, they eat away at my insides. When I look at them in black ink on a white sheet of paper, they make sense. I see them. I feel lighter. 

It’s when we remove the convenient distractions – from the familiar hum of morning TV shows to the mere presence of someone else in the room who makes us feel like we should be engaged in conversation – that we can best take in all the messaging our bodies and souls are trying to communicate with us. 

When singer-songwriter Margo Price came to Nashville and played one of her earliest songs for an established writer, he told her to go home, throw out her TV and her computer, and keep writing. 

It wasn’t that she was on the wrong path. It was that she needed to plunge deeper into the right one. 

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