When my friend’s son was small, he talked incessantly. Born with Venus in loquacious Gemini, he jabbered constantly about stories he’d read or what he’d seen on television that morning. His mother is a patient woman, but eventually the sheer quantity of words wore her down. One day, she recalls, driving along with her child chattering away in the passenger seat, she suddenly couldn’t take any more. “Could you please just stop talking for one minute?” she begged her small son. “And immediately,” she told me, “his little eyes filled up with tears. I couldn’t have felt more awful!”
Few feelings are as wounding as not being listened to, especially by those we love. In his book The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck characterizes true, attentive listening as one of the greatest gifts of love we can offer another person – and one of the most difficult. There are times when it’s easier, of course — in the first flush of passion, when your loved one’s every utterance is like honey, or when your toddler is first learning to talk. But to really listen even when you’re not in the mood, when you’re heard the same story a dozen times, when you’re worried about something else, when there’s nothing in it for you personally – that’s hard work.
It’s most difficult to listen when people talk about things you don’t want to hear, things that challenge your worldview. Each year at Thanksgiving, with the Sun in Sagittarius – the sign of beliefs – many family tables are minefields, as we tap dance around topics that we know will invite controversy. The December 3, 2017 Full Moon falls in Gemini, the sign of enthusiastic chatter as well as attentive listening. It falls a couple of weeks too late to lend conversational sparkle to your Thanksgiving celebration, but in plenty of time to deconstruct it. How much loving attention were you able to muster for the bombastic uncle, the long-winded grandmother, the cousin’s political tangent? Were you too busy trying to be heard to really listen to anybody else?
When we give up pretending that we know everything, we free ourselves to learn from what other people have to say. And if we turn off the cell phone and stop texting for two minutes, we might notice that the woman sitting next to us in the doctor’s waiting room looks scared to death and might be grateful for someone to talk to. Listening – that simple gift of attention and love, like holding open a door for someone leaving a store as you’re entering – makes the world feel a little kinder, a little more civilized.
In public, watching everyone around me texting away and ignoring everyone else, and I wonder how in the world they ever met the people they’re texting with. Cell phones have become like little force fields we carry to neutralize exposure to strangers. They allow us to tune out the raucous conversation of the young men loitering on the corner, but also to ignore the old woman asking for directions to the bus. We are in worlds of our own, jealously calibrating the flow of conversation that has the power to lubricate the gears of a trying world.
The world and its people can indeed be trying, and perhaps we can be forgiven for taking refuge behind the white noise of iPods and banal cell phone conversations. Too easily, though, inattention becomes a habit that persists even at home among those we love, and that’s a problem. Love, as Peck notes, is not just a feeling, but a verb. It’s something we do, a bit of spiritual theater we enact through actions large and small. And listening, even when we don’t feel like it, is a small but powerful act of love. That’s what my friend recognized that day in the car, when her unwillingness to listen made her son cry. She took the lesson to heart, and made up her mind from that day on to give her bright boy the gift of her listening.
The Sun’s annual passage through Sagittarius blesses us with insight into our most cherished convictions. When we tap into our Sagittarius power, we may feel the urge to proselytize about our beliefs; caught up in our own thoughts, we are likely to forget that others see the world quite differently. The Full Moon in Gemini reminds us, simply, that listening – bearing witness to another’s reality – is a sacred thing and a loving act. Listening connects us to one another – and it enriches not only those who are listened to, but also those who listen to them.