I did not invent that saying. I heard it from master storyteller Donald Davis during a storytelling workshop where deep listening was the centerpiece. Not listening in the background. Not listening while washing the dishes. Not listening while something else is going on. Just listening. Can you remember the last time you did that?
Then it makes me think of how most people used to listened to music. If you were listening at home on a turntable, 78 player or earlier mechanism, there was a ritual involved. First, decide what you wanted to listen to. Spread your fingers across the spine of the vinyl collection. What mood are you in? Your albums are organized according the artist and style and you are proud of that. Pull out a 12 X 12 album jacket and look at the front cover. Admire the large artwork that defines what the album is about. Then, turn it over and read the list of songs if you haven't memorized them. Remind yourself of who the band, backup singers, producer, engineer are - if you haven't memorized them. Is this the one? Great!
Then, remove the vinyl in its white protective paper sleeve, careful not to touch the grooves and get fingerprints. Is it dusty? Carefully place on the turntable and consider whether or not it needs cleaning before playing. Then, and only then, when you are ready, place the needle on the outside groove to begin the experience.
You find your place in the center of the stereo speakers. You may have a cup of coffee in hand, or a glass of wine, but you are there for one thing and one thing only. A listening experience filled with emotion and revelation, following every note, every word, every turn of phrase, one at a time. And, 17-20 minutes later, you breathe, return to the turntable, turn the album over and repeat, getting the second half of the story. Yes, the story. Every album cut was a piece of a well-told story with beginning, middle and ending.
Then, there were the listening parties. Yes, people got together and actually listened together. You bring your latest favorite album to the friend's house with the best stereo and speakers. Everyone listens and even discusses what they love about the music, or what they don't love about it. Or about the awesome guitar licks on the 3rd song. Or how the drummer seems to have spilled hot coffee on his lap during a song where the timing isn't quite perfect. You pay attention to where each sound seems to be coming from in the stereo spread. You are socializing and interacting live and in person in real time. This moment is not recorded, texted or Facebooked, but it is definitely shared. You never talk while the music is playing because you'd miss the music. So you wait till a side is over before discussing. We deepened our friendships this way.
The rituals involved in listening to music are akin to those of making a great cup of coffee, or of composing an amazing photograph. It is like cooking a meal from all fresh ingredients to be savored slowly and carefully, with every color, taste and texture acknowledged.
This is not doing nothing. This is doing something.
Just think about it. Then, however you listen to music, take one full album recording and sit down and do one thing - listen to it, beginning to end. I'm sorry you don't have to turn the album over if you are listening digitally, but still, you will get the experience, the whole story, all of the lyrics or musical phrases. You will taste it, smell it, savor it, enjoy one piece more than another, and you will get a sense of what this artist had in mind when they envisioned and then created this body of work. You are not reading just one chapter of the book, maybe in the middle, without context. You are reading the whole book, beginning to end.
I've been accused of "geezing" by a former associate.
This is what geezers do, she said when I spoke of the 70's. She said that before the Internet and all of its life changing experiences.
Try it. Try two things. Try doing nothing and see if you can!
Then, try listening to an entire album of music, with whatever gizmo you listen through. Just focusing entirely on the music and doing nothing else - not looking at your phone, email, texts, Instragrams, tweets, the dust on your floor, the hole in your shoe. Just close your eyes and be there. Listen. Savor the experience.
Then what? Nothing. You've done it. Try it again sometime.
Cathy Fink's latest recording is "DANCIN' IN THE KITCHEN: songs for ALL families".