Last time I asked everyone on my list to notice habits with family around the Holidays and to explore making changes. I experimented with this myself last December and was pleased and somewhat surprised at what I found. My heart feels warm and full of love in this moment as I think back on it.
Last December, I spent the holidays with my mother at her home in Arizona. My mother was hearing impaired. Her hearing loss started many years ago and seemed to get a touch worse every year. While she had hearing aids that were designed to help, they caused other issues. For example, they often made high-pitched sounds piercing and unbearable. I imagine that, when a sound came on suddenly, the impact was something like being spontaneously stabbed in the ear. So my mother hardly wore the hearing aids. On top of her hearing issues, bright lights at night had also begun to bother my mother’s eyes. As a result, she liked to have faint lights in the background at night, but nothing directly overhead. This of course limited her ability to read lips.
In the past, when she couldn’t hear me, I would strain to be louder, jut my chin out and over-enunciate like crazy. You know what I mean. It’s akin to yelling at someone who doesn’t speak the language. All of this was laced with the frustration of having to repeat myself. It’s comical and sad when I look back at it now – especially after having experienced what’s possible last December. This time, when she couldn’t hear me, instead of straining (essentially going into Relationship Engagement C) I simply took it as an opportunity to practice walking the Vocal Presence Path.
First, I would bring myself into Relationship Engagement B – opening my heart to receive her as she was in that moment and sending myself out through my own heart. That’s pretty important: receiving her as she was. That meant accepting that she doesn’t hear the same way everyone else does, rather than being frustrated by it and allowing the frustration to push me into Control mode.
Next, I would Breathe Life into the Experience, taking a nice, healthy, Nourishing Breath. I opened my throat, supporting the sound with my core muscles in my abdomen instead of straining with my throat. (Straining in the throat often makes us sound louder to ourselves in our inner ear. It doesn’t do much to actually increase the sound for the rest of the room. And it’s bad for our voices). My volume increased only slightly when I did this. And yet, I felt a clarity and a commitment to the sound being sent across the room for her.
Finally, I connected with what was really important to me in those moments: connection and love. Instead of sending frustration and struggle at her, I embodied connection and love and used the breath to carry that to her across the room. Two steps on the Vocal Presence Path – Rooting in a Sense of Purpose and Taking People Along for the Ride – are like bookends. In this case, practicing these bookends meant rooting in connection and love and looking for signs of those values coming to life more in her. I even did this when I was asking her silly questions about Downton Abbey.
So, what were the signs of connection and love in my mother? The main one was that 95% of the time, with a few simple adjustments, she could hear me. In this case this process of embodying connection and love, supported by two techniques – adopting Relationship Engagement B while practicing the Nourishing Breath – allowed her to hear me when, at roughly the same volume just moments before, she could not. I believe she could hear my heart.
I’ve been rolling this over in my mind and heart for a long time. Hearing and connecting can come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve seen it time and again, from interactions with my mother to workshop participants who speak differing native languages. When we really meet people with an open heart, accept them as they are and communicate while embodying our values and our purpose, we can literally and figuratively hear each other better than we can when we don’t.
Sit with that for a while and consider …
What is possible in the world from there?
PS – The story above is an excerpt from my book: Your Voice Matters, A Guide to Speaking Soulfully When It Counts.