“Compassionate listening is crucial. We listen with the willingness to relieve the suffering of the other person, not to judge or argue with her. We listen with all our attention. Even if we hear something that is not true, we continue to listen deeply so the other person can express her pain and release her tensions within herself. If we reply to her or correct her, the practice will not bear fruit. We just listen.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
This kind of compassionate listening is not easy to do … at least not for me. I so often want to jump in to “help” or to “correct,” when what is really needed that I just listen. Sometimes even attempts to encourage the person who is sharing can undermine her need to be heard, especially is does not acknowledge the hard in what she is sharing. This kind of listening generously to another’s pain can be challenging, but it is also extremely rewarding when we can share their pain in a way that comforts.
I think that one of the first steps in being able to listen to another person in this way is developing the ability to sit with our own pain and discomfort. If we cannot tolerate our own pain, we will never be able to listen compassionately to someone else without trying to “fix” the problem in some way in order to avoid sitting with their pain and discomfort.
For me, this is part of what living the contemplative life is all about. If I am able to just be in all situations, then I will be better able to just be and just listen when someone has the need to share their pain with me. It enables me to truly hold space for someone to sort through their own thoughts and feelings in a safe, supportive, and compassionate environment knowing that I can be present with whatever they bring to me.
I won’t reach that place overnight, but this gives me something to aim for. It’s a vision of what I believe I was created to be and do in this life.
This last year has taught me a great deal about the ability to sit with my own pain and discomfort without turning away. I’m learning not to automatically run for distraction or relief. Amazingly enough, the better I am able to sit with discomfort, the faster it passes away. (But that’s a topic for another time.) However, I am noticing that the more I am able to sit with my own discomfort, the easier it is for me to sit with someone else’s discomfort.
I’m still not very good at it. I still fall short of my ideal frequently (especially with those that I am closest to because their pain is more uncomfortable for me still), but I am seeing progress. Like so much else I do, it’s still baby steps in the right direction.
I am increasingly convinced, however, that as I continue my work on healing my own wounds, facing my own shadow, and accepting myself just as I am, I become more and more able to be present to others in the ways that matter most to me. All of this work on myself sometimes seems so self-centered, but I continue to see so often how it is only in working on myself that I am most able to give the blessings I desire to give to those around me.
Learning to be a more compassionate listener by becoming a more contemplative person is just one more example of this. If I just keep taking those baby steps in the right direction, this journey will take me where I need to go.
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a very fragile place, and it takes a good deal of vulnerability to share this personal journey of transformation so openly. Therefore, I need this to be a safe place for exploration and sharing for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight—or the expression of that experience or insight—are NOT welcome here and will be deleted.