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The Most Important Thing
After spiritual healings, practices, massages, therapeutic exercises and interventions, and all kinds of wisdom that I have turned to for help at various times in my life, I have come back to my roots, to a simple conclusion.
There is nothing on earth that is more powerful than one person listening to another.
I don’t want to dismiss the help I’ve received, or take any credit away from very specific methods and techniques, which I have benefited from in specific kinds of ways—but what I am talking about now, it seems to me, is the heart of the matter.
The heart is one person’s heart, open to another’s, in the form of pure, simple human attention.
It’s not telling the other person what you think they need to hear, even if it’s the highest spiritual wisdom. It’s not saying anything that makes them recoil, even ever so slightly, in their bodies, or makes them feel a little less, or even makes them feel a little more.
It’s not about being nice or not rocking the boat, or not disturbing someone’s comfort for the good of their growth. It springs from a deep trust in the fact that accepting even their most stupid thoughts and feelings as they are, with the purest, simplest attention, leads to the same place we all want to get to. It leads to growth, spaciousness, lightness and release.
This deep trust is a bit of a leap of faith, every time. Surely it’s better to give the other person the knowledge they need, the missing piece, the gentle shove in the right direction that will cause the scales to fall from their eyes. Sometimes it will work, there is an “aha!” moment and the other person feels they have got the missing piece from you.
Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. The same way that simply listening and giving the other person their truth back sometimes “works” and sometimes doesn’t.
But with giving people the shove, the information, the missing link, the technique, there is a risk.
People can be divided into two (amongst infinite other) groups. Those who want to be told what to do and those who don’t.
If the person wants to be told what to do, they will be grateful and they will feel that they got what they needed from you. They will not feel the power of having an insight of their own. They will not be able to trust that insights naturally arise from situations, when we don’t fight and create confusion, so they will continue until the next crisis, when they will fight, create confusion and seek help again. They may become dependent on you, or on some technique, or form.
If the person does not like being told what to do, they will not accept your insight, or accept it at the cost of a kind of estrangement from their own instincts.
Both of these groups of people are at risk when you start to give them the answer.
But of course people get lost and suffer terrible pain, and need help. I don’t mean to suggest that the answers are all inside ourselves if we just listen—answers do not tend to come when we are isolated, and sometimes there is so much going on, inside or outside, that we simply cannot hear.
In that case the kind of listening that in no way attempts to change the situation communicates a gentle curiosity, a holding, an unconditional love. These things are underrated in the therapy industries. They are hard to quantify and study the effects of. They are difficult to sell in the marketplace and they are difficult to “believe in” because you do not have to believe in anything.
It is not a question of feeling sympathy, of personally liking someone, or just being alongside them. What I am talking about is making a space to entirely and without reservation accept what someone else is saying to you, right there and then as their truth in that moment, and give it back to them, inevitably with the flavor of you.
Carl Rogers put his finger on the centrality of this listening in the 1950s. Even then of course it was not new, it was a question of his isolating the thing that really helps, the most important thing.
Help and healing are not dependent on any of the therapies human beings have thought up, or on any special access to any spirit worlds. Giving each other spaciousness and acceptance is enough. When you can hear your own thoughts again, your own feelings, when your own intuition awakes, you make your own discoveries in your own time, based on the knowledge that it’s not about changing—the answer is already in your question, or you could not ask it.
The answer will also be a question. The healing and help you need are already here.
Sarah Luczaj is a poet, person centred counsellor/therapist and translator from the UK, living in rural Poland, where she runs an online therapy practice and face to face therapy practice (the latter in Polish!). Once a regular writer for the Psychology, Philosophy and Real Life blog, she is now busy focusing, writing a PhD on no-self in therapy, laughing at just about everything and attempting to grow vegetables.
Editor: Maja Despot
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