What is up for you in your listening these days? Does there seem to be a theme? I hope to hear all about it at our next Volunteers’ Monthly Meeting on Thursday, May 23rd, usual time, usual place!
The theme for me right now still is Difficult Conversations and not by choice! Yet I am grateful for what occurred this week because through it I received a beautiful level of encouragement attesting to the healing that real listening can bring.
There is someone I have a particular and difficult relationship with and because of the nature of the relationship, I cannot avoid this person. Still, because it is a difficult relationship I have not gone out of my way to seek regular contact.
This person reached out to me this week and asked for a phone call. I picked up the phone and dialed. I did so because, though I don’t know how to have this relationship, I am willing to have the relationship – and this feels like a heart thing (as opposed to a sense of obligation).
One more detail that has some relevance to me is that I see this person as having a mental illness, one that has gone undiagnosed. So while I sense this person’s disruptive behavior as innocent – caused by the disease – I still have a hard time fielding a visit, even by phone, with them.
Of course, those of us who have been with the LP for any length of time have listened to many people with various levels of mental illness, and often that mental illness is further complicated by chronic inebriation. And listen, we do – we even enjoy and appreciate it! But the relationship is usually pretty clear: we serving and they are receiving. Listening when the boundaries are less clear, or when the boundaries imply a kind of mutual sharing, like between family members, can be an entirely different experience.
Or so I thought. But what ended up happening when I was on the phone with this person warmed the heart and even built some confidence – in both of us. But it started like this; I could hear the tension in them like they were broadcasting a blast of pure disenfranchisement by using the words, “Hi. How are you?”
I waited inside myself, I know you know this moment. I chose to be present. I chose to listen. Or, more accurately, listening happened by grace and I only would have liked to have been the one to choose it.
“What’s going on, you sound tense?” For the next 40 min I heard complaint after complaint about other people we both know and the complaints sounded stretched and exaggerated beyond believability. It was amazing how many times I noticed myself wanting to correct or add a different perspective to the complaints hurled. Humbling.
As I stayed with the listening I felt the impact on both of us. My ‘desire’ to correct really and noticeably faded. This person’s complaints… softened to a simple and rather ordinary conversation. We both began sharing at that point. When I tell you that neither one of us became defensive with one another, I would like you to know that has been rare. And it was palpably different than those calls where I tolerate this person’s viewpoint and keep my own viewpoint silenced. There is a lot of efforting in keeping myself silenced. No real connection happens in that.
The real connection we both experienced through that phone call was compelling. To those curious about how ‘just listening’ could possibly help, I have often said that there is healing in the moment of being heard. Our guests’ lives may not change overall, and may not appear to change in the slightest actually. But in the moment of being heard, respected, trusted that your story is your story and it doesn’t have to be anything else… healing happens right there.
I felt that with this person. I don’t mean to speak for them that they were healed, but I do know that I was. And… as we said goodbye, this person said, “Thank you for listening.” Because of the way I have judged their mental illness, I wouldn’t have guessed they could tell they were heard. Being thanked begs my heart to open wider, to lean into presence and to check myself when I sense efforting rise up. Listening – and I am preaching to the choir – heals and that healing is reciprocal.
Thank you all, for listening. We couldn’t possibly thank you enough.
~ Avie & Marcia