I’ve been thinking a lot lately about listening. It began as my colleague, Rabbi Sarah Tasman, and I worked to create a new program here at Mayyim Hayyim for moms and 8/9th grade daughters.
Inspired by our successful bat mitzvah mother-daughter program, Beneath the Surface, we wanted to design two Sunday afternoons that will engage moms and girls with each other in new ways — to strengthen their connection to one another and to Jewish ritual.
We developed activities that will help teen girls and their moms hone their communication skills, thinking about when we are open to talking, where we do our best talking, and, critically, how we can be really effective listeners.
“The difference between the sense of hearing and the skill of listening is attention,” says Seth S. Horowitz, an auditory neuroscientist at Brown University and the author of The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind. “Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload. Luckily, we can train our listening just as with any other skill. Listen to your significant other’s [or mother’s or daughter’s] voice — not only to the words, which after a few years may repeat, but to the sounds under them, the emotions carried in the harmonics. You may save yourself a couple of fights.”
Practicing your listening skills is eye opening. Try sitting shoulder to shoulder, facing away from each other while you listen, without making eye contact. Require that each person spend five or ten minutes doing all the talking and then take three minutes to sit in quiet before switching roles.
Horowitz continues, “’You never listen’ is not just the complaint of a problematic relationship, it has also become an epidemic in a world that is exchanging convenience for content, speed for meaning. The richness of life doesn’t lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention.”
The trained, volunteer mikveh guides at Mayyim Hayyim know the critical importance of listening for those “timbres and variations”. They listen with all their senses (not just their ears) to our guests. Who needs extra instruction, who needs to be in and out in 30 efficient minutes, who needs to be met with a soft voice and lowered gaze, who with a wide, enthusiastic smile? Whose eyes are red as they walk through the door, needing a private place to share their grief? We listen so intently, so carefully – we try to be, almost literally – all ears.
And so we look forward to sharing this deep experience of listening with the participants of the upcoming “Bridging the Gap” program for 8/9th grade girls and moms through the modalities of painting, crafting, a little movement, some writing and reflecting, and, of course, lots of tea and chocolate – certainly the best ever conversation facilitators.
Please join us or tell a friend. Registration closes on Wednesday. https://www.mayyimhayyim.org/Events-Classes/Bridging-the-Gap.
In the meantime, here’s a musical reference for today: listening, and the rain…. Listen to the Rain.
Lisa Berman is the Director of Education at Mayyim Hayyim. She began as a volunteer mikveh guide the week Mayyim Hayyim opened its doors in 2004 and now directs a Center that educates more than 2500 people each year about this ancient ritual and its contemporary possibilities.