Saturday, August 31, 2019

Being Astonished

This morning the piercing sweetness of the finches songs and the pearly white luminescence of the calla lilies took my breath away. My own back yard is sacred ground—if I can empty myself of distracting thoughts and let the world flood in and ravish me. Nature is always calling out to us to wake up and pay attention to what’s right here in this moment. Poet Mary Oliver reminds herself (as I also do) to “Keep my mind on what matters, which is my work which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”

In the midst of our grief over what is happening in our world, these moments of full presence in our everyday lives, of standing still and being astonished, is what is needed to heal our hearts—and ultimately our world. The Earth has so much to teach us right now—but we need to take the time to open to these ordinary moments that call out for our attention—when a bird is singing, when sunlight is streaming through branches, when a stone in our path catches our eye. How did I miss all this before? 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Compassionate Listening

Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don’t interrupt. You don’t argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing.
I recently came across these wise words of the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Compassionate listening is at the heart of good therapy, good communication, and a healthy self esteem. There is truly a time to just listen, to hold the space for another person to share and to empty his/her heart of all that encumbers it. We all need this—to be accepted in this moment just as we are. This kind of listening heals in and of itself.

When clients and friends ask how they can support someone who is grieving, this is one of the first things I recommend—to simply hold the space for their grief, to listen without any attempt to fix or change anything, to listen compassionately. Thich Nhat Hanh is right—just listening in this way can relieve the suffering of another person.

Likewise when I am working with couples, this kind of listening can transform the way they are with one another. As they work on issues between them, most couples get caught in a tense exchange as both partners try to make a point, to prove themselves right. So as one partner is speaking, the other is busy internally reacting and making a mental case for their side rather than listening to what is being said. Once compassionate listening occurs, the atmosphere in the room changes appreciably. Relationships change when each person feels heard. Instead of partners bristling with each other, they relax and become softer with one another. Voices become quieter.  Suddenly there is vulnerability and a willingness to share much more openly with one another.

Let’s take this to another level. Can we take this compassionate listening into our quiet time with ourselves? We turn our attention within and invite the life force to flow through us. We stop running and arguing with the way life is; we stop trying to change ourselves. We listen deeply to our bodies, to our feelings, to whatever is showing up in this moment. It’s as though we tell ourselves, “I’ll be here for you however you are in this moment. I’m listening.” To meet ourselves fully in this way is an act of love.