This weekend Herb, my husband, was not feeling so well. He was taking time to rest and recuperate. My girls went off to a friend’s place for a few hours Saturday, leaving the house empty and more quiet than usual.
As part of my training and study of meditation, I explore practices of deep partner listening. On the surface this may sound silly or cheesy. Though, it was not until I started exploring such practices that I realized often when I think I am listening to another, I am mostly formulating my own judgements, thoughts and responses, worse yet interrupting rather than listening at all. These kind of practices have been eye opening for me. So, of course, it is quiet on a Saturday afternoon and these are the kinds of things that I suggest that Herb and I do, though truly this was only the second time. He kindly obliged me.
There is a lot that goes into this kind of partner work, but this post is less about the method and more about my experience. I played the role of the listener and Herb, the speaker. I simply listened, expressed acknowledgement and occasionally mirrored what he shared. Often I see Herb through the lens of a busy Dad, physician, spouse and son. Even though I know what appears on the surface is not always as they are on the inside, it is so easy to forget this in the busyness of daily life.
From my own experience, when someone is given the space to share without any need for fixing or analyzing, they begin to share from the heart. When I began to listen to Herb openly, my sense of ego began to dissolve, at least a little. I wasn’t formulating a response. I wasn’t trying to alleviate or repair. In that space, I was able to see, hear and feel Herb as a human being. Not as my husband. Not as a father. Not as the role he plays at work. His humanity aroused my own and I felt a palpable softening. So often through the day we carry an agenda along with expectations of how people should or should not be. Human beings cannot be boxed up into an agenda or an expectation. It is simply not how humans work.
Those thirty minutes were deeply impactful for me. I don’t even know that it was so much the nature of the content being shared. It could have been trivial or it could have been been profound. Regardless, I was gifted the time to listen to his heart from my own. We all have things we carry with us and I dare say that we all in some way want to be heard, valued and seen, just as we are. I hope I can remember this even occasionally in life. I know and trust it has the power to transform our hearts and our relationships.
I’ll close with these beautiful words by Thich Naht Hahn:
Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don’t interrupt. You don’t argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing.