Three years ago, a friend came to me a few times with sorrow in his heart and an overloaded mind. Life had not been going well for him professionally, romantically, or creatively and he was at a low. Each time, I brewed tea, laid out some morsels to nibble on, and invited Friend to sit down with me at the dining table.
As we sat together, Friend spoke everything he had been thinking and feeling. I listened. Friend cried a lot. I listened and waited. From time to time, I would ask him an open-ended questions based on what he had said that stood out for me. Then he’d talk and cry some more. I’d listen. We’d hug and set up another time to meet, then he’d go home.
At the end of the last of these sessions, Friend seemed much more animated, less sad, and had some ideas about moving on in his life. Just before opening the door to leave, he said, “James, you should be a motivational speaker.” I responded, “Actually, Friend, I’m more of a motivational listener.” We stood there for a moment, eyes and mouths wide open. Both of us knew that something important had just been spoken.
When people hold a conversation in council or circle, they agree to express themselves one at a time and to listen attentively to whomever is speaking at any given time. I’ve seen amazing changes happen to people simply by being witnessed in this way without cross-talk, fixing, or advice. To be able to tell personal stories of unfathomable pain or great exuberance in the company of trusted people without being judged is an act of healing. They realise there’s nothing wrong with them or with their feelings. People hold their stories as tenderly and respectfully as any official sacred text. The listening is enough. As I often say, “We have two ears and one mouth. Let’s remember that.”
The questions I pose during tarot counselling appointments, council circles, motivational listening sessions, and in my journal are all rooted in listening to what’s occurring. Once I ask, I need to step back and simply witness where that question takes me or the other person/people. Often, the listening is the healing balm that’s required.
How might we practise the power of listening? Let’s try these things:
- The next time you want to interject an opinion or piece of advice into a conversation, take a slow, wide, deep breath and say nothing. Notice what happens.
- Go for an after-dinner walk with someone who is close to you. Agree to simply listen to what’s around you instead of talking. When you return home, share with one another what your experience of the walk was. Remember to listen to one another as you share.
- Find a place outside where there is as little activity as possible. Sit down there. Spend seven to fifteen minutes focusing your sense of hearing in seven directions: before you, behind you, to your left, to your right, above you, below you, within you. What was your experience during those seven to fifteen minutes?
- Pull a tarot card (or other insight tool) at random from your pack. Briefly look at the picture. Hold the card up to one of your ears. Listen. What do you notice?
When did you feel most deeply heard? What conditions made that possible? When did you truly hear the very core of something or someone? What conditions made that possible? What, for you, was a peak healing experience that involved the power of listening? How might you build on that experience to enrich yourself and our world? Please tell me…I’m listening…
Image: Two of Air from the Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell Colbert.