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Listening. Have you ever had the experience of telling a friend something that mattered a lot to you and having them respond with a similar story of their own or even talk right over you? Did you feel frustrated or invisible? I’ve had that happen a couple times recently and it got me to thinking. Thinking about listening, and about the ripples that flow out from being truly heard and seen.

Yesterday a friend and I were recalling the first time we met and the conversation we had that day. She remembers that I acknowledged the difficult work she was doing in caring for her ailing husband. She said nobody in the past two years had ever noticed how she was struggling, they only saw her sick husband. My own memory of that first meeting is of being amazed when she thanked me for my observation, how her thanks opened up my heart.

I tend to get impatient when people don’t aren’t coping very well and sometimes I tell them how to fix their problems. Sound familiar? And what about being tongue-tied around a coworker experiencing loss? It may be easier to just avoid him because, let’s face it, we often don’t have the right thing to say. It’s hard to be present and listen quietly to someone else’s experience, especially when it is unfamiliar or unpleasant. Yet we all know what a gift it is to be seen and heard by another person--it makes us feel like our situation is not hopeless. It makes us more alive.

Of course I too often don’t listen well especially if three people and the telephone are all clamoring for my attention at the same time. I just want to simplify the input and expedite the solutions! Yet I know that in those moments my coworkers and my patients don’t feel respected and a little chime in my heart reminds me I’m off center and maybe I can do better. Not so that I’m a better person, but so that the people around me have a better experience. We all need each other’s support and encouragement and we are made braver and lighter by our sharing.

So this week I invite you to share my own challenge: To listen carefully even if you have no advice to offer, and to stop offering unsolicited advice. To observe closely but not summarize or judge (which is a really tough one). To connect with someone who is sad or worried rather than avoiding them. To be generous and gentle. Not because we can save or fix the people around us, that’s not our job. But because when we offer each other kindness and a moment of shared humanity we make their lives better. And who knows where the ripples will go from there.

Blessings as you listen,

Eileen J Terry

Read more about Eileen here.

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