Once upon a time, circa 1999, I got suckered into taking a personal development workshop that lasted three-and-a-half days. Back then, being right was a primary focus for me, so I agreed to sign up, paid the outrageous fee, and set forth to prove it was a waste of time and money. Class started first thing in the morning, around 6:00 am, and usually ran late (midnight). The worst part was that we always had homework and my apartment was twenty minutes away. It was exhausting and intense, but the payoff was huge if you brought your A-game and allowed yourself to be vulnerable. I'll give you an example...
One of the exercises they had us do was stand, face-to-face, and look into the eyes of a stranger. It was weird and uncomfortable, one of the most awkward things I had ever done in my life, but after twenty seconds of sighs and giggles, the room grew silent. I'm not sure how long we stood there — maybe two minutes, maybe more — but it felt like years. By the time it was over, everyone knew everything about the person they had faced without either one of them ever speaking a word. The lesson: we were the same person, living separate lives with equally matched pain. To this day, the only thing I remember about the guy paired with me was the sadness in his eyes. I'm guessing his memory of me is comparable.
Afterward, once the tears dried and people stopped hugging, the world felt united and peaceful. We were at ONE with each other, uncontaminated by filters or acts and living our best, most authentic, lives. I went home that night feeling exhilarated. Without so much as a whisper, someone I had never met before knew every word of my story.
It is impossible to listen with your head up your ass. Yet, so many people try to make it work, walking around aimlessly, bumping into boundaries, pretending to give a shit about others. But if you pay close attention, which you probably will now that you're aware, you'll notice how often it happens. People go out of their way to look past one another, darting their eyes the second they make contact and anxiously fidgeting — shifting body weight, glancing down at their watches, or "just checking" to see if they got another text — the entire time. There are two reasons (that I can think of) why we do this: prevent others from getting too close and hide true feelings. Imagine how much worse it is when someone breaks trust.
Humans are strange creatures. In the 4.543 billion years the world has been in existence, we keep doing the same stupid shit —lying, cheating, stealing, hating, killing, judging, and cutting ties with people we love to avoid confrontation. Have we learned nothing? If the world ended tomorrow and we had to start over, how long do you think it would take before we ended up exactly where we are today?
When my Great Aunt Stella, the last living sibling of my grandfather, passed away several years ago, I remember feeling lucky to have seen her one last time. She was a petite woman, about four-and-a-half feet tall, with atomic brown eyes and a voice that melted like butter when she spoke. She was also as Italian as they come, forever stirring the pot and shoving candy into your pockets when you weren't looking.
The last time I saw her was in 2006 when I called to pick her brain about my grandfather. She told me she wasn't going to be around much longer and said I should come home for a visit. Within a few weeks, we were sitting on her couch together, swapping stories and flipping through old photo albums as she tapped her boney finger against the large oxygen tank that was keeping her alive. Before leaving that day, she looked up with dampened eyes that told a story I had never heard before. She was a tough old bird but a much better actress, and I'm grateful to have caught a glimpse of the real her before saying our final good-bye.
We are all part of a slow-moving heard that refuses to listen, even if we ask a question. When was the last time you listened with your eyes, or had someone listen to yours? What if the meaning of life is as simple as keeping it real?