The Bluebird In Your Heart & The Courage to Listen First

 a note from Erin:

“The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”
– TS Eliot

I was sitting on the porch last night, sipping prosecco with Carl and a dear old friend whom we’ve known since we were all in our 20s and who is visiting from the east coast. We were musing about our changed perspectives over the years…

How much we’ve changed from young and exuberant explorers to dedicated parents, married couples, and passionate professionals.  (Ok, I’m no longer young but I still am an exuberant explorer!) I was sharing the story of how I often walk by a rental house a few blocks down my street which is always spilling over with tattooed, hip, 20-somethings and how I’m so surprised when I walk by and they look at me like I’m a one-dimensional, frumpy “mommy” who couldn’t possibly relate to their wild lives. I am always so surprised – Seriously? I find myself wanting to share about the wilder chapters in my history. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, and my own tattoos and other exploits, you know?  But I don’t. I smile and walk by, wondering how often I don’t see people through the veil of what I project onto them.

When I was 20-something, I’m sure I looked at “old” people like that too. A 19-year old woman came to visit me recently, home for the summer from college out east. I watched her take her first wobbly steps what seems like not long ago. Now she’s an articulate young woman, full of opinions and passions. She was talking about someone who’d been a mentor of hers, and she said, “Well, I’m not sure I can really call her my friend, because she’s like, fifteen years older than me. She’s in her 30s!” (And I was wondering, wow, you think she’s old? What does that make me?)

Isn’t aging strange? 
As a 20-year-old, you can relate to people your age and younger, because you’ve been there. As a 50-year-old, you can relate to kids and teens, to 20, 30, and 40-somethings because you’ve lived through all that. I remember with humility how often I’ve projected onto people in my grandparents’ generation a kind of simplicity and innocence, like “they wouldn’t understand the ins and outs of my spiritual life, love life, the world issues that I’m concerned about,”  because they’re old. But truly, what do I know of their own escapades, their wild longings, their hidden dimensions? Hello, humility!

Our dear friend of 20 years is now a therapist and is in town to co-facilitate a therapeutic workshop for adult male survivors of sexual trauma. I asked him, as he’s done this gig for several years, What are they like? He said through tears, “You’d never believe the incredible trauma that ordinary, everyday people have survived.” He went on to say that while some look like the former high-level athlete who endured horrific abuse by his coach and others and is now overweight with utterly sunken posture and hiding behind scraggly hair, a beard, and everpresent sunglasses; others appear as “normal” successful executives who’ve compartmentalized their suffering in a socially acceptable way. We marveled again about the fact that you’ll never know the hero’s journey another person has endured, and we mused at how easy it is to put someone in a box, slap them with a label, and then not be able to see beyond it – kind of like I experience my wild 20-something neighbors do with me. And like I might do with a scraggly guy on a street corner talking to himself. Like we all so often do with “others.”

Why am I writing about this?

What I really want to say is, with all my heart I so want to be able to see and be seen beyond the labels we have for each other. Across the generational, racial, and political divides. To know that everyone is on their own challenging life-journey, much of which we may never bear witness to, and how important it is to be kind whenever possible. And as the Dalai Lama says, It is always possible. And humility comes again, because sometimes…. it’s so hard.

Another line that has been with me all week came from a phone conversation I had with Russell Delman and others last weekend. A woman shared how challenged she’s been in her longtime friendships with people whose political beliefs are very much aligned with hers, but who have recently seemed to say, “If you’re not in a rage, and not going to join us in bashing those crazy “other guys” we can’t relate to you. You’re not on our side.” She sounded heartbroken at the gap growing in her old relationships, based on her unwillingness to close hear heart and get hard.  Russell shared an image I appreciate so much:

How often conversations can simply seem like two televisions facing each other.
Blahblahblah. Rahrahrah!
Not much real exchange or listening.
He said, “For it to shift, someone has to have the courage, the dignity, the grounded presence, and the willingness to listen first. To really listen.” 

Can you imagine being that courageous one to listen first to someone you don’t understand?

I was so moved when I read a piece about just this, written by someone practicing “Free Listening” outside the recent Republican National Convention. There’s a magic that happens when we can break through the surface of differing viewpoints and make authentic connections with the tender hearts underneath them. The article, called “How to Disagree” ends with this paragraph:

“The truth is, if our love can hold space for paradox, tension, and disagreement, there’s room for all types of beliefs and opinions. 

Division is a choice.

Life isn’t a Facebook feed.  

Our love, our listening, must bring in, not edit out. 

Dare to listen, dare to be quiet, dare to seek understanding; in the end, it’s the people we need to love, not their opinions.”

May we have the courage, the dignity, the grounded presence, and the willingness to listen first. 

It just might save the world. And if not the world, hey –at least it will save those parts of our hearts that might be starting to harden. As the saying goes, there’s no one you can’t love once you’ve heard their story. It’s a challenging time to choose to believe that. But I’m going to try.

I want to share a poem that has so touched my heart over the past year. It comes from Charles Bukowski, and I love the way it gives a window into the tenderness in each of our hearts, no matter the pains we take to hide it.


there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I’m too tough for him,

I say, stay in there, I’m not going

to let anybody see


there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I pour whiskey on him and inhale

cigarette smoke

and the whores and the bartenders

and the grocery clerks

never know that


in there.


there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I’m too tough for him,

I say,

stay down, do you want to mess

me up?

you want to screw up the


you want to blow my book sales in


there’s a bluebird in my heart that

wants to get out

but I’m too clever, I only let him out

at night sometimes

when everybody’s asleep.

I say, I know that you’re there,

so don’t be


then I put him back,

but he’s singing a little

in there, I haven’t quite let him


and we sleep together like


with our

secret pact

and it’s nice enough to

make a man

weep, but I don’t

weep, do


With love for all the bluebirds in all the hearts, including yours,



You can read the whole powerful piece on How to Disagree right here:
It’s brief, and worth the read.


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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.