June 4, 2010

On being heard, seen and supported (even when you feel like sh…)

This is yogic communication.

Feeling crappy + accepting kind listening = sublime communication that can move mountains.

The word yoga means ‘union’. It evokes an image of opposites coexisting and coming together. So when I bring uneasiness within myself to your welcoming gaze, I might heal. There is a union of more than one of us coming together, each holding a different mind state, and sharing ourselves. Our communication forms a union of greater understanding. It allows me to voice something I am resisting, probably something I do not want, and when you listen it can help me bridge the gap between my difficulty and the truth of the situation. It may afford me an easier chance at accepting whatever it is if I see that you can hear what I’m saying with kindness. It can help me hear it in a more compassionate way, too.

I understand that this kind of thing can make people uncomfortable, sometimes. You might not be ready to hear my troubles. But if you understood what a gift your listening might be, then maybe it could be possible that we might be more available to lend a listening ear to a friend in need. Your attention is one of the best things you can offer someone: eye contact, gentleness, hearing and a compassionate mind.

The biggest block to listening to someone else is fear. Maybe you just don’t want to go there with someone… It could feel too intimate. Sometimes I find myself thinking, “Sorry, I’d really like to be there for you, but I just don’t have the time right now.” Or sometimes it really is inappropriate. Someone has improperly judged the boundaries of the friendship, or just hasn’t thought about it…

A friend once shared that she was afraid to listen because she might not have the right answer. It can seem like too much responsibility when someone has trusted you enough to share something deep or difficult. In this situation, should you decide to take it on, your only responsibility is to give this person space to talk. You cannot know someone else’s answers. It’s not your job to know that, but you can be there for them and bear witness to what they want or need to share.

If you do want to listen to someone, and offer the blessing of a kind ear, but are afraid of a potential shift in yourself toward the negative, this is what I recommend. Rather than over-protecting yourself by walking away or changing the subject, there might be a way to extend your care without getting your energy zapped. If I feel the danger of getting pulled into someone else’s negative energy state, I remind myself that this other benevolent soul’s difficulty is not mine. If I need to, I might excuse myself, take a few deep breaths, get a drink of water, and remind myself of my energy, the goodness I carry. And when I go back to this person I keep my distance, yet listen. We are empathetic creatures and are affected by each other, including what we see and hear, but with a little applied technique I can move through my fear and offer a compassionate ear.

I know that we are not all trained psychologists, and I don’t think we need to be, but I also think that we can help each other by listening.

We can also fortify our own inner structure for helpful listening by making strides towards self-understanding through writing, meditation and practicing listening. If you’re afraid of what’s inside yourself it’s going to be harder to listen to someone else. I think of myself as having a psychological bomb shelter inside. I can hear a lot.

Part of what protects me is how I see the process working. When you have stuff coming up for you, it is literally your stuff. I can’t know your answers: only you can. What I can offer you is listening space. This can help if it’s hard to look at something. I am still a part of the equation when I am listening and if what you are sharing brings up something for me then I’ll have my own learning to process, that’s mine. So communication can stay clean, clear and helpful when we can take responsibility for what is ours, and know what is someone else’s.

Fragmentation in family structure these days means that we don’t always have the ear of an intimate when times are tough. So many of us live alone, and even when we share a household there can be so much busyness or a need to play a strong role so that to share a weakness seems impossible. We need each other.

This societal fragmentation is actually an opportunity to heal across families, to reach out beyond our familiar groups if we are willing to open our eyes, ears and hearts to one another.

*Companion article at Yogic Muse.

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