It’s surprising to me how much the conversation around marijuana has changed over the past decade or two. Half Baked taught me that marijuana was the domain of goofy good-for-nothing boys who have little and ambition and nothing to offer the world. Today in America, marijuana has been rebranded as cannabis, and the government recognizes it as something that makes sick and anxious people feel better. Which means you no longer need to be a male twentysomething with no prospects to use it without criticism.

When I met my boyfriend Percy, I’d had marijuana before and hadn’t been terribly impressed by the experience. But his stuff was entirely different. His stuff made me feel like a fucking shaman communing with the spirit world (I have a story about that, but I’ll save it for another blog post). The first time we sat outside of our ramshackle apartment for some puff and pass, I felt a blanket of calm and a deep sense of clarity that I’d never had before. I gave no fucks about anything at all, but in a totally zen-like way. And it’s from this place of calm and no expectations that I learned something very important about what it means to love.

We all know that you can’t actively love well when you’re wound up and anxious. You can’t love well when you’re thinking about car payments and bills. That’s because preoccupied people can’t listen well. And loving has a lot to do with listening. The higher we got, the more comfortable Percy was with telling me the deep hurts of his life. And instead of trying to resolve those pains for him,I listened. I nodded my head, looked into his eyes, and listened. When you become focused on trying to fix someone and their problems, it can easily become all about you, how you want them to act, and what you want out of your relationship with them. But when you listen, it becomes about them. It becomes about offering a shoulder to cry on, which is what we need most in certain moments of our lives.

Percy had been living alone for a long time before I came along. He and I were both foreigners in a land that hadn’t shown us a whole lotta love. Looking back, that time I spent just listening to him spill his guts was invaluable to both of us. I learned a lot about his fears and dreams, and he got to say things that he hadn’t been able to say to anyone else.

Smoking weed also helped me to better love my ten-year-old daughter. She’s an only child and a confirmed mommy’s girl; as I started spending more time with Percy, she engaged in a tug-of-war for my attention. One night after a particularly great blunt on a particular beautiful night, I went inside to put her to bed. She was so upset that I wasn’t going to sleep in the room with her and would instead watch T.V with my guy. Eventually, she started crying and admitted that she had been leaning on me so much because she didn’t have that many friends at school. My heart was broken. I had no idea that my little girl had been suffering the schoolyard blues like that. But I listened to her patiently. I asked questions so that I could understand better. When she finished I told her with unbridled sincerity that I loved her more than anything, and nothing could change this, not even a new boyfriend.

During my time in Ghana, I’ve gone through some pretty heavy shit. I’m still dealing with the fallout of failed relationships and painful money problems. Had my daughter poured her heart out to me while I soberly stewing in my broke single mom issues, I would have met her confession with anxiety and impatience. Instead, I responded with calmness, a listening ear, and reassurance that my love for her was permanent. I also told her that we’d work together on finding ways to help her make more friends in the coming school term. What mother wouldn’t high five herself after a performance like that?

So, I’ve learned that loving is listening and listening is loving. You know that old saying about having two ears to hear but only one mouth to talk? Humans can be impulsive sumbitches who are constantly trying to rationalize, excuse, minimize and exaggerate for our own benefit. We like love because in its most beautiful form, it strips away the need to protect the ego and desires nothing but to give. Being under the influence of cannabis has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. While I don’t smoke as much as I used to, I carry this lesson in my heart. I have a deep desire to love the people around me. Love ’em till it don’t hurt no more. Even if I can’t completely erase someone’s pain, I know just what to do to help ease it.

Try this experiment: Try listening a bit more today when someone you care about is speaking. Show them that you’re listening. Nod. Make eye contact. Empathize with them. The marijuana is totally optional, but you might find that it helps things along.

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