Plains around Segovia
I heard the same message twice recently, in both cases second-hand – from someone who had spoken to the person in question.
In the first case, someone who had become very ill said he was a bit fed up with everyone coming around and telling him about their illness experiences.
What he needed was that they just listened to him.
In the second case someone told me about a person who had separated from her husband, and said the same – all she got to begin with was everyone ‘sympathising’ by telling her about their own relationship problems or break-ups. But she just wanted someone to listen.
I think we all do this because it seems like empathy, or because it’s so hard not to say ‘me too’. But clearly in both cases, the person just needed loving listening – someone just to hear what they were going through, and that’s that!
I was very struck by that. This week a friend told me about a health problem with his mother, very similar to something my mother went through. The natural thing would have been to say “my mother had that too…” etc etc… but I remembered to keep quiet and just listen without adding my story as well, and I’m sure it was the right decision. He seemed happy that I had just really listened.
I really believe in the power of just listening – certainly when I just listen to my wife when she needs it, instead adding my point of view, or becoming defensive about something, the difference is amazing.
We have been many times to Plum Village in France to hear the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh speak, and he emphasised this over and over again – just listen, it’s incredibly healing for the other person. Recently I found a comment on the Plum Village website that really struck me also:
Dear Thay [Thich Nhat Hanh], I want to say thank you for your help!
Summer 2014 I was in Waldbröl to hear your speech. Two years long I had no contact with my son (33 years old). He had accused me of being guilty for his problems in life and avoided contact since then. At the beginning of summer 2014 he wrote me a letter full of accusations. I was totally shocked and sad because after the separation from my husband, his father, I had tried to do the best for my children who I loved so much. And I suffered so much. So I did not know how to react and how to come into contact with my son again.
Then I heard you, Thay. The first sentences: you talked about a father and his sons who hadn´t have contact to each other for a long time. Then your advice: Listen, listen carefully. This I did. I went to a therapy with my son and listened. We had quite a number of therapy lessons and more and more I understood my son better and he me.
Since then we see each other regularly and have good talks. It gave me back my happiness. I feel so much obliged to you, dear Thay, and can´t thank you enough.