Much silence makes a powerful noise.
Apparently one of the things I picked up along the way is that when someone describes a problem or situation to me, I’m supposed to fix it. I slowly realized that, not only am I not capable of fixing or figuring out other peoples’ problems, but other people don’t usually want me to fix them! Another old habit of listening and responding is, as I’m hearing the other person’s story, I’m also thinking of an experience that either matches or tops what I’m ‘hearing’. In some situations, this can be a fun exchange, but sometimes it’s not what’s needed.
So, what to do??
Listen. Make listening an active verb. Listen with your whole body. What I have found is that, when I listen with my heart, what I hear is beyond words. And when I’m able to stay in my heart, my response, if needed, goes to the essence of the situation.
When one of my daughters was in her second week of first grade, one of her classmate’s mother died. Among the parents who knew about the situation, there was so much sadness and a nervousness with respect to the uncertainty of sharing this difficult situation with our six year olds. On the first day of school, the teacher had given the class a year-long assignment of keeping a daily journal, and on Mondays some of the kids would share what they had written. The teacher told me about the Monday after Megan’s mother’s death. Megan volunteered to read from her journal and, with some hesitation and fear, the teacher called on Megan who read “My mother died a few days ago. I went to her funeral . . . “ and went on to describe her 6 year old experience of her mother’s death. After Megan stopped reading, the class sat in complete silence for some time, then broke out in applause.
What struck me about this story was the power of slence and the ineffectiveness of words in some situations. Perhaps more noteworthy is the fact that a group of six year olds knew instinctively how to handle the situation. Sometimes it feels like we don’t need to learn more, we just need to un-learn some of the things we’ve been taught.
I heard real listening described once as an act of pure love. Being fully heard is a heart-felt experience. So simple. So powerful.