Peeling the Onion (of Purpose and Meaning)

I always appreciate it when someone asks me to explain what led me to initiate the project and to describe the purposes that I hope it will serve. I value these questions because they make me question myself repeatedly, and I believe that those questions have sparked some better understanding in me about who I am and the reasons I am doing this. I also can tell you that my responses to myself, in attempting to answer these questions, have changed considerably since initiating this now nearly 16 months ago.

When I was first asked these questions, I focused on my concerns about our ability and/or willingness to truly listen to one another; my sense that most of us were poor listeners, something I had felt from teenagerhood onward. I also would talk about my concerns that our growing reliance on our phones and pads and laptops for communication and entertainment and whatnot were doing us no favors – that our children seemed to be gaining a fear of more direct modes of interaction with others, that texts and emails were replacing direct voice-to-voice communication, and that our attention spans were shortening for information like news and commentary, but also, perhaps, our attention spans to accommodate one another. I might also have talked about my sense of the loneliness in the world, that many people’s people are far from them, or they have few friends for one or more reasons, or they have lost the people closest to them, and there seem to be fewer means of building new relationships, particularly later in life.

I shared these things and often I still do. But at the same time, through this time and through these experiences, I felt that I was grappling to understand something about myself, something perhaps broader, something that would synthesize the particulars I noted above, or possibly even transcend them in some sense. I understand, at this point in my life, that I am a caregiver. It seems to come naturally to me to look out for people, to help them when I can, to bridge distances rather than keep or extend them. And so while I think that all the responses I have made as noted above regarding the ‘why’ of this are true, they are also part of something both broader and deeper in me, an understanding that all that I am, all that I ‘have’, is both impermanent and fleeting.

I don’t see much value in acquisition – never did, really. Rather, I find value in living the love I feel both for the people that I meet and those I may never meet, in easing pain and suffering in whatever modest ways that I am able, in helping others to understand their uniqueness and worth, in making connections and sharing resources, in being with the people that I love, listening to music, and sitting in silence. And sometimes, in just listening. So The Listening Project is about listening, yes: but it also is more than that. It is, for want of a better way to put it, a kind of ‘whole body’ experience/experiment in liberating myself to love, and give, and relate, and learn, and to learn to care less about my ‘self’ in ways that feel very positive. I am deeply grateful to be having this experience, and I want to express my deep appreciation for all the people who have shared these moments with me.

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