Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Acting Or Listening?

What'll It Be?

‎"You can't shake hands with a clenched fist."

~Indira Gandhi

I would add that you can't read Braille with one either...or play the guitar...or anything that requires listening and sensitivity. Acting and listening are always somewhat odds with each other. If you're totally listening (yin), it's hard to act. This is why you tend to stop dancing at a loud party when someone's telling you something you want to pay attention to. If you're totally acting (yang) it's hard to listen. This is why you tell people to shut up when you're writing something important.

When I act, I know my listening is suffering. When I listen, I know my acting is suffering. The tricky thing is, we never know whether the next moment will demand more action or more listening. If you're always totally listening you're a long way from acting. If you're always acting you're a long way from listening. Either "stance" is a liability if life demands the other option.

Therefore, the only stance that's worth cultivating as a characteristic way of being is neutral, or ready. Half listening, half ready to act. This is also called T'ai-Chi. I call it "unforced balance". If I can rest there, I'm ready to go either way. In theory anyway, if life demands action, I can act. But as soon as the action is over, I return as soon as I can to neutral, since I don't know if the next moment will demand more action or switching to listening. If I have to listen, I listen, but as soon as the listening is over, I return to neutral because I don't know if the next moment will demand more listening or switching to action.

I think of this neutral T'ai-Chi state as being like a dimmer switch on a kind of spring. It's set to the middle between the polarities of listening and acting. If I turn the switch in either direction, it goes there. But the second I let it go, it springs back towards the middle again. In practice of course this is difficult because I can get stuck on one end of the spectrum or the other. But I do my best to cultivate that middle state as my resting place.

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