Celebrating Ma’at: Listening

For 40 days, I will think about a value I have each day. I am also continuing the daily draw, a short rite to Ma’at, and reading 10 pages a day of Dr. Karenga’s “Maat: The Moral Ideal”. I’ve given up sweets as a way of connecting this celebration back to my New Year’s Resolution.

Yesterday’s virtue was empathy, and today’s was listening.

The Ancient Egyptians made a big deal about listening. As far as I can see from the wisdom texts I’ve been exposed to, you gain wisdom by listening. Things in the world run smoother when you listen. The ancients also seemed to differentiate between simply “hearing” and “listening”– anyone can hear. But to really understand what was said and take it into your heart…that was listening.

It seems very passive, from a Western view (or at least my Western view). Talking is what creates solutions, share ideas, and breeds understanding. Ask questions, share your view point, offer advice, arrive at solutions by talking through it with others. Listening is certainly an important part of this process, but not nearly as important as the talking. Listening, in many ways, sometimes feels like a way to get “talking-fodder”. It gives you more to talk about. Conveniently, it can give you time to think about what you’ll say next! Yipee!!

While I certainly love to learn, the above encapsulates a lot of how I used to think about listening…and how I have to fight approaching it. But its not really listening. You can’t come to understand what someone is saying if you are too busy forming a rebuttal. You may not come to understand the person’s feelings or unique experiences if you are too busy forming solutions (solutions that often rely on our own past experiences and may not take into account someone else’s experiences if we don’t think carefully).

What’s more, I’ve come to find that often, people aren’t looking for solutions. They are looking for comfort and support. Throwing a thousand questions and possible solutions doesn’t really provide the sort of understanding and support some are looking for in such times. If someone comes to you with that end in mind, it is very helpful. But at this point, I have to remind myself to either ask, outright, “Do you want me to help you find a solution or do you need me to listen?” or just forgo the question altogether and learn to shut up. If you ask questions, its not to find a solution, its to better empathize and understand the feelings and experience of that person. Big difference.

So that’s what I tried to do today. To be more aware of when I was really listening, and when I was not listening. It was, one might say, an exercise in mindful listening. It was difficult. It is something I must continue to work at, if my listening will truly cause me to learn from or support others.

We can also try to listen to any god we might honor. Whether they are real or not, I often feel that if I go into any sort of prayer, meditation, rite, or whatever, there has to be an end in mind. “What am I looking to accomplish today?” or “What will I focus on?” or “What will I work on/ask for/think about?”. But prayer or meditation doesn’t have to be so active all the time…in fact, meditation is all about being less active.

I think the sort of listening I need to work on with others is also the sort of work I need to do when I decide to spend time spiritually. Learning to listen…to sometimes have no objective in mind other than to connect, relax, and just…be. To let what comes, come.

Here’s to listening.



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