Listening is often the only thing needed to help someone.
“Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.” L.J. Isham The world is a very loud place where our senses are bombarded with information with which we are forced to wade through, interpret and understand so that we can successfully survive and interact with the world. Even in rare moments of silence the brain still has incessant background chatter of all of our not so helpful and often pointless thoughts. The speed and pace of life means that we don’t have time to listen to ourselves, to really explore what people are trying to express. Instead, we simply hear. “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” Anon What is the difference? If we have music on, we could describe hearing as noticing the vocalist, backing singers, the instruments, the volume and where the sound is coming from. Hearing is very factual. Whereas, listening is connecting and understanding lyrics, the melody, the dynamics, rhythm, tempo, the layers, feeling the emotion, interpretation, and the atmosphere. We need to listen to ourselves. “There’s nothing more important to true growth of the mind than realising you are not the voice of the mind- you are the one who hears it.” Michael Singer. The mind is incredible, but it can also be very annoying. It loves to ruminate on our experiences and has a particular fondness on homing in on our least favourite memories. When this happens, we re-live and remember such moments long after they happened, and this can elicit the same debilitating effect such as when the event happened. If we hear, we have a choice to listen, and then determine how we react. This is where the work needs to happen. We need to step back from all the noise and to be present. This allows us to witness what we are focusing on from a point of safety and a place of inner knowing, trusting, confidence, resilience, reflection and hope. We were all bought up in a set of family values and within the structures of institutions and society which give us clear guidelines of what it means to be good and bad. Teaching us the rights and wrongs of life. But as we grow, and with experience, we find that many of these boundaries do not align with the way in which we choose to live our lives. Being a ‘good girl’ doesn’t mean that you have to sit quietly and play with dolls and being a man doesn’t mean that you can’t cry and must love football. We all must navigate our way through life by selecting the parts which best suit our path. There are many obstacles which can prevent us from listening such as past experiences, anxieties, and fear of the future which, in some cases, is usually unknown (although we like to think that isn’t the case). We all know what we want but sometimes it is the journey from now to getting where we want to be that can be the hardest part. In my years as a client, in training and as a practitioner of Craniosacral Therapy, I have spent significant time and energy learning to be present and to trust my inner intuition. To get there I had to sort through a whole load of embodied stress, trauma, and behavioural patterns, of which I’ve made massive steps, but the work ALWAYS continues. It’s an active recovery. There will always be slips, tendencies and triggers. I’m not saying that my life has been any worse than anyone else’s but, we must recognise how things have affected us and how they can continue to influence us and then work through them. My brain kept telling me to not be seen because I was worried about be labelled and judged. I was worried about not matching up to the achievement and lifestyles of others. One of the most significant things I learnt is that I labelled myself as a great listener. In friendship groups, usually everyone has a role/contribution it’s not a said thing but generally a socially evident construct. I labelled myself as the good listener. I would sit quietly, not sharing my story but simply listening. The fact was, that from my past experiences I didn’t want to be seen, I didn’t want to have the attention on me, I didn’t want to express an opinion in case it upset anyone. My friends are the loveliest, most open and non-judgemental people I know, I have heard them share all sorts, but I was scared to do the same. I recognised my mask of being a good listener and realised that it was a significant boundary in people getting to know who I really was. Since acknowledging this boundary, I could then work to improve it, which I have done and, as a result, they have noticed this change in me so we’re stronger together then ever and it feels incredible. It has also improved my interactions and ability to express myself, with my family and people I meet daily. The mind can shut us off from experiencing joy, happiness, and peace, however, finding my voice has been a revelation to some, and incredibly uncomfortable for others. It has been a shift in my life. Sitting quietly is not being a good listener, as I found out, but being an empathetic or active listener, is. Empathy is putting yourself in the position of the other person, it’s non-judgmental and recognises and communicates emotion that you have experienced before. It not about interrupting and stealing someone’s moment by telling them a similar story, it’s about normalising the situation by letting them know that they’re not alone. Sympathy is a direct juxtaposition to empathy. Sympathy is acknowledging that someone is distressed so we often respond with lines such as: ‘It could be worse.’, ‘At least…didn’t happen.’ or, ‘You’re strong you’ll get over it.’, 'If I was you...' or 'You should.....' etc. We often turn to sympathy as we do not want to see the people we love hurting. It can hard and uncomfortable for us to hear so we deflect the situation with empowering and motivational words. In essence, we cut peoples’ stories short. We don’t let them fully express themselves. This is all done with kindness, but it doesn’t let that energy discharge from the person’s system so they may feel as though they are not being heard or that their feelings are not valid. It’s a very tricky situation and one that I’m very conscious of especially in clinical work. Empathy is listening and sympathy is hearing. “Empathy drives connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.” Brene Brown To listen, we need time and space to approach it and with an open heart, creativity, interpretative skills and empathy. Listening comes from a point of stillness and grounding, from knowing ourselves and holding the space so other people can work through it and find themselves. Once our inner lives re-organise and re-align, as will the outside world. The Craniosacral Therapy Association describes Craniosacral Therapy as “the simplicity of a gentle listening touch, Craniosacral Therapy offers a distinctive stillness that allows your mind and body to rest deeply and begin to restore natural balance.” I wholeheartedly agree and it is through this work that I have learnt most about myself. It was a long journey and it’s not over. It’s about making the challenges of life a little less intimidating and the hills a little less steep to climb when they’re encountered. Instead of believing those negative thoughts, take a step back and observe, check in and say ‘Ok, I see you, that’s interesting, what has happened for this to come up again? rather than just thinking 'You’re right, my ears do look big in this hat.'