If you’ve ever taken a yoga class where the teacher’s instructions weren’t quite understandable (or in a lecture where points a-b-c don’t quite line up, or in a conversation where chunks of thought don’t quite make it out intact), you know where this line of thought comes from.
These moments really bring to light just how essential clarity is: without it, we are disconnected. We can’t communicate. We can’t be on the same page as those around us. We can’t work towards anything in common or share ideas or get what we need from people or tell them that we have something to offer.
Most recently, I found this to be particularly true in a yoga class – which I will use as my glass for trying to distill these thoughts into something… clear.
The class was not an easy one – a level 2/3 Vinyasa, for those who speak yoga-class-lingo - and I’d been looking forward to working out some kinks, both physically and mentally by sweating through a tough, focused class. The teacher on this particular day was a substitute. This is a weekend class with a dedicated group of regulars, so it must be a little daunting for a new person to step in and run things their way. It definitely proved to be more of a challenge for everyone – students and teacher - than usual. For the students, the sequencing, names of poses, and flow of the class were entirely different; for the teacher, it was ninety minutes of back-peddling, restating, correcting, and apologizing when, despite her efforts to say things in her clearest possible way, no one reacted to her instructions as intended. It was frantic and not conducive to a meditative headspace at all.
So on this went for the entire class. The direction given was not clear. The response to the direction was even less clear. I watched as students around me gave the yogic-equivalent of throwing their hands up.
And yet: not one student said anything. No one asked for clarification. United in our confusion, we twenty befuddled yogis plodded on, ending with a sense of “what just happened?” instead of “let’s go make some good things happen in the world”.
But what’s the takeaway here? I am not saying the teacher ran a bad class (although the constant changing her mind after giving directions was irksome). And I’m not suggesting that students be confrontational in asking for clarity (who wants to be the person interrupting the flow by asking to go back and start a sequence over?).
What I came out of my non-meditative morning feeling is that so much of our lives are probably this way: the speaker is frustrated that no one seems to understand, the listener is annoyed that ideas aren’t presented more clearly, and neither side stops to check in with the other, separating their purpose with every misspoken, misheard, misunderstood sentence.
This applies to all of our relationships – including interactions with people we don’t know or encounter very briefly. As the speaker, much of what we say is intentional and thought-through? How much of it is presented to be understood, as opposed to presented in the way that is easiest for us? Do we tailor our words to our audience? Do we remain respectful of they know or believe or the lens through which they view the world? Or do we rattle off a set of demands or ideas with no sense of how it will translate once it makes the journey from our mind and mouth to their ears?
As the listener, how often do we jump to conclusions before the speaker has finished their thought? Do we assume we know how the thought ends and become frustrated when this assumption turns out to be wrong? Do we ask the right questions to ensure we understand, or do we drown out what we don’t want to hear by blaming the speaker’s ineptitude?
We are gifted with this ability to communicate. It allows us to move together towards a common goal – to share and adapt and tweak as needed en route – but unless both speaker and listener are attuned to the importance of clarity, the two routes will splay until the words can’t carry across the chasm.