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advocating kindness when listening to others’ woes

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Yesterday’s post (and comments) set the stage for the evening’s telephone conversation with my counsellor. We talk every four to six weeks. As we begun to review recent events in my life, I was struck (and moved to tears) by the simple act of being listened to with respect and kindness. Nothing fancy, just plain being heard. No advice, no attempts at fixing. Simply hearing me out, prompting me to dig a little deeper, guiding me in what she calls “inquiry.”

She encouraged me to “get close to” something that’s been troubling me over recent months, namely a sense of not doing enough, of feeling unproductive, and, of feeling as if I was putting in time till I die. Without judging what I said, or urging me to “get over” anything, she nudged me to “face into” this sense. “Where do you feel it in your body right now” was enough for me to sense a huge boulder in my stomach, careening towards me as if in an Indiana Jones film. Asked to get close to said boulder, I quickly found a crevice through which I entered a world of lush greens, damp mosses, flowers, and stillness. Instead of “getting over” we “got into” the phenomenon. Using imagery and here-and-now emotions, I soon arrived at a place of understanding and resolve. (I’m skipping the more intimate details.)

Reflecting on what we did together took me back to counselling school in the 80s, when I became acquainted with Carl Rogers‘ person-centered psychotherapy theory. Grounded in phenomenology — the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view — its aim is to bring us in touch with subjective experiences, especially emotions of which we’re not fully aware.

My wish today, should you find yourself at the receiving end of another’s lament, is for you to suspend judgement and restrain the urge to fix. My intention, in turn, is to be mindful of my knee-jerk temptation to solve the other’s problem and, instead, to open my heart the way I would towards a child I love.


11 responses »

  1. I had a nasty period of anxiety attacks during my early twenties. A leaden sensation in my chest, vanishing breath, and a credible belief I might die. It came and went daily.

    After two years I defeated it by giving into it. Out of desperation, really, whenever the sensation arose I began to say “kill me then. do your worst.”

    It lost interest soon after that. That technique has become part of my equipment and served me well on occasions since then too.

    • “defeated by giving in,” what an exemplary Buddhist you are 🙂 Dan. I read giving-in as opening-up-to, as allowing that which is, to be illuminated.

      There’s a Tibetan prayer “Grant that I may be given appropriate difficulties and suffering on this journey so that my heart may be truly awakened and my practice of liberation and universal compassion me be truly fulfilled” (in Kornfield, J. 1993. A path with heart. New York: Bantam, p. 73.)

  2. Lovely, generous follow up post. Thank you. Restraining the urge to fix has been one of my most challenging and ongoing learnings – one gift of learning from a daughter determined to live her own life in her own way 😉

    • My thanks go to you for your comment to yesterday’s post. It brough me back to what really matters when the going gets complication — to find a listening heart.

  3. yesterdays post (and others) remind me to keep foremost in my life the Four Noble Truths. what i am learning, and often struggle to recall, is to witness my suffering rather than attach to it… hard to do. I must pay extremely keen attention!

  4. Well, for whatever reason, ~ their being no mistakes in the universe in my belief system ~ I come late to these two latest postings. But I read the one before about Utah and hand-guns in sheer disbelief about how worked up you were over what ~ in the great big scheme of things ~ seemed to me to be complete trivia.

    So I lacked the interest and the courage of your young friend to tell you to “Get a life, let it go, and spend your energy on more worthwhile things.”

    But I didn’t mind then using an hour to look at all of Utah’s state symbols and to learn why this last one was being chosen. Nothing at all diabolical about that choice.

    But, and far more importantly, not knowing what the “it” was that your “young friend” had suggested you get over, I would have wished that no one had made any negative judgments ~ clearly based on nothing more than assumptions ~ about her behaviour. I find that disrespectful of her Beingness. In that connection, I also don’t know if she was asked for, and gave her consent to be published in a blog.

    Finally, if she decided not to get involved in what she might have perceived as a game of “Ain’t it awful/ poor me,” which lots of people like to play, I admire her ability to make that choice.

    • Bill, I’m sorry if you’re offended by a seeming breach of privacy.

      There is no SHE or HE. “My friend” is code for a composite of people who subscribe to a “Just Do it” (Nike slogan) attitude; perhaps a generational thing.

    • Much of what I write may appear “trivia” to you — that’s the nature of a personal blog.

  5. Dear Daishin,

    It is very comforting for me to know that the issues that I have been struggling with are part of your journey too. Your courage to face “a sense of not doing enough, of feeling unproductive, and, of feeling as if I was putting in time till I die.” helps me to face them.

    As for your friend not understanding your situation, my experience has been that if an issue has not touched your life, it is very difficult to relate to it.

    Thank you:)

    • There IS comfort in being heard by another, even as existential issues differ from person to person and time to time. Thank you, Rita.

      You’re wise to remind me that someone’s readiness depends on their life experience and may thus colour their response.


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