A friend I deeply respect and value posted the above quote today and it really caught my attention. It caught my attention from both ends: both from the listening (or failing to listen) end as well as from the position of being the one heard (or failing to be heard).We don't often listen deeply. Even those of us in "healing professions" or caring professions... we don't often listen down to the core. Those with training in listening sometimes do a better job, but I think it is difficult even for listening professionals to hear, really hear, into someone's center. For me personally, I am better at listening to those who come into my office wanting counseling or support. I have been blessed by seeing those moistened eyes in those situations. But even then, I don't think we listen with depth often enough. We can find ourselves thinking about how we should respond. We can catch ourselves thinking in what ways we need to support the other. We think about how we can express care and love. All these are good things in theory. Of course we want to respond in a loving, compassionate, helpful way to the other. But these thoughts and concerns that fill our minds keep us from really listening. They move us out of truly being with the other, being in each moment and hearing from our hearts. I think this can be even harder in a situation of colleagues or friends. In those cases, we usually want a mutuality, a conversation. It is a back and forth: you share, I share. I share, you share. And in those cases especially real listening can sometimes be hard. It can also be hard when we love the other and they are sharing something painful and we don't know how to help: we can get caught in our feelings of helplessness or even paralysis, or our own pain that they are hurting, and be so focused on being afraid of what to say, afraid of doing it "wrong", or of wanting to fix it so we no longer hurt, that listening can be challenging for us. It can be hard if we want to be known as much as we want to know the other. Striving to be known by another takes focus off that other. A mutual back and forth sometimes can help in that, but only when we know when to stop sharing and when to listen instead. Not easy.
Every time someone shares with us, every time we are even with someone else, there is an opportunity to see and to hear the other. In that seeing, in that hearing, there is an opportunity to make a difference for another human being, to validate who they are. In a sense when we really see or hear another we make real their being. By acknowledging their core, by seeing them at that depth, it is like naming something, making it true. That can be a profoundly deep experience for the other person. It can also help them to see themselves. When we are seen, sometimes the sight the other has can help us to glimpse our own being in a new way, to a new depth. I don't always like those moments when a mirror is held up for me. But when it is done from a place of real listening and love, it can inspire genuine change. It can challenge us to see ourselves and to have compassion for the rough parts first. From that place of self compassion it is much easier to sand down those rougher places, to work on the changes that will heal ourselves and our interactions with others. What a gift we give then by really listening and seeing.
But the truth is that when we fail to do this it is not just a loss to those we have not heard. It is our deep loss as well. My truest experiences of loving another have come from really seeing or hearing the other. To see into someone's core being is an amazing gift to the seer. It gives us glimpses of eternity, glimpses of our connections that go beyond anything we usually experience. To love one another is to care for them. But to see another involves a different kind of love. I have felt my heart swell, grow beyond caring to a kind of love that is transporting through truly seeing and hearing another. It is an experience that brings the other close; or rather, that recognizes the closeness and connection that already exists in a real and profound way.
But I'll tell you this: when you do not feel seen or heard in some place in your life, it makes it almost impossible to see or hear anyone else.
This is part of the reason I feel strongly that people in helping professions should also receive help. If you are a pastor, counselor, or spiritual director, receiving counseling and/or spiritual direction is really crucial to listening well to others. If we are not heard in a place of depth, if we are not truly "seen" by another, how can we see or own those rough places that need sanding? There can also be a dangerous human tendency to project the parts of us we don't want to see onto others. That, too, makes it very difficult to see the other for who they really are. Accountability in our own being and self-reflection allow us to see more accurately what is our stuff and what truly belongs to the other. This also means that in seeking out a counselor or spiritual director, it is crucial to find someone who can see you, can hear you, for who you actually are, and who can hold up a mirror in a loving and compassionate way.
The quote I started with stands on its own and probably doesn't really need all of this unfolding. It is a gift to hear, to see. It is a gift to be heard, to be seen. And the good news is, this is a gift we can all work on, all claim, all give: Just by listening with our hearts as well as our ears, eyes, arms - all of our senses.