The more I try to grasp the many dimensions of the global crisis that has so fundamentally changed our lives, the more I care about how this crisis is affecting us emotionally. Unexpected disruptions can come with a range of emotions that are often challenging, perplexing, and rapidly shifting within us. Turning to one another and finding support in each other’s company through deep listening can be a place of relief and comfort. And with this relief comes an inner spaciousness and renewed sense of wherewithal, and the possibility to invite and perceive a future that is truly new.
I experience this rapid shifting of emotions myself. For example, while I am often still in shock about the pervasiveness of the impact of the virus, I also feel I am letting go of the familiar, finding moments of acceptance. In these moments, I get glimpses of new possibilities and feel a sense of hope. But these moments pass, sometimes quickly, and I find that I am actually angry. I notice this when I am reactive in situations where I am usually more patient. Then later, I may feel so overwhelmed that my head hurts and I am emotionally too exhausted to work the extra hours that I believe are needed right now. During the last two weeks I even had a few moments of despair.
How about you? What emotions have you been cycling through?
Turning to one another, trusting the need to tell one’s story, and struggling together to find meaning is an essential skill for these times. During such sustained disruption and suffering, emotional stamina is needed more than ever. Without it, the impact of this crisis can turn suffering into real trauma. We need to do what we can to help each other rather than feeling alone and overburdened by this challenge. While we might be afraid that sharing our deepest concerns could overburden others, we may instead find empathy and compassion. While it might take courage to share what we are really feeling, we might also find that modeling this courage helps others as well. Sharing our concerns and uneasy emotions can help us return to a sense of inner balance that did not seem available before.
Personal Practice: Deeply Listening to One Another
There are many right ways to create a soft place for our emotions in our relationships. Deeply listening to one another is one. I would like to share with you what my husband, David, and I have learned to do to deeply listen to one another. Most likely, some, if not all of what I share is familiar to you. And, if so, please consider these words from a dear friend of mine, “A good friend, when needed, helps us remember what we might already know.” Please, consider me your friend right now.
A couple of days ago, after my morning meditation and reading the newspaper, I sat with David at the breakfast table talking about how we will navigate the day, what chores we will need to tend to, and how we will tackle today’s work projects. Because we work together and often from our home office, this is not new. But that morning, I said to him, “I need to tell you what I am feeling. Something is churning inside, and I need to talk about it.”
Well, David did great. Instead of jumping right into the next thing he was eager to do, he settled back into his chair and smiled a soft smile and then just sat there with an open heart, listening attentively. For fifteen minutes I talked about my worries and the ache in my heart for all of those who are really suffering right now. I talked about how moved I am by all who are stepping up to help. And, I talked about my longing to connect what motivates me to do the work I do—supporting others through change—directly and immediately to what is happening in this crisis. As I sat with these emotions and my longing, I found myself crying for a little while. I had not anticipated this but releasing the tension of this inner churning felt good. David sat with me for a while longer, then got up, kissed my forehead, and said, “And what I need to do today to feel more grounded is to work in our garden to grow more of our own food.” I felt complete and he carried on with what he needed to do.
David and I have been cultivating a practice of deep listening for many years now and this is something we now can really draw on as we are coping with the impact of this crisis in our lives and our partnership.
Here are a few basic things that David did as he was listening to me that were very helpful:
- He made time and was patient.
- He did not interrupt me or try to make this into a conversation.
- He did not try to fix me or the situation or make suggestions for what I should do.
- He stayed connected to me, listing with empathy, and all the while assuring I had the space to find the words to say what was important to me.
- He found words to say that acknowledged what I was feeling.
- He tracked my thoughts and acknowledged what he heard I cared about.
- In-between he also commented on what was happening in his body as he was listening. For example, he described feeling a tightness in his stomach that he had not noticed before.
What Is Deeply Listening to Another?
Deeply listening is much more than understanding what the other person is saying. It is a relational practice where we can help ‘host’ or together ‘hold’ each other’s experience in a soft place. This is about our willingness to be touched by what another is saying.
Here is a description of what being deeply listened to can feel like:
If what I say touches you and I can notice that in your being, then not just my mind but also my heart and body know that you have heard what I said. This is when I feel what I have said has landed in you and I am not alone with it anymore. It has landed in the container of our relationship. At that moment my feelings have a home that is shared with another person. It is then that I feel I belong as who I am.
Not feeling alone with our feelings is very important right now as we have to physically isolate ourselves in so many ways from others that we love and care about.
This mutual holding in these deeper conversations does not need to last for long. The conversation that David and I had was only 15 minutes. Because we do this often, it becomes easier and in a way quicker. Being really heard can change everything. Sometimes for a little while. Sometimes longer. And right now when our emotions run high, or we feel afraid or despairing, or even if we are just feeling uncertain or perhaps just numb, having a soft place to land with our feelings with another person, even if only for 15 minutes can be such a big gift. Perhaps as a gesture of kindness and compassion, all of us can practice more of this, especially when others feel too reserved or afraid to ask.
A good way to begin is asking, “Please, if you like, tell me about how you are really doing…”
Co-Creating Our Future from A Place of Belonging
Setting aside time to be present and deeply listen to each other, as we move through the waves of emotions that we feel, helps us recognize in a most fundamental way, that we are not alone. We belong and belong to each other. These feelings of togetherness and belonging not only help us to cope and heal but also support our individual and collective resilience and creativity–capabilities required to envision and pursue a future that is different from what we were able to create before. While understanding that these relational spaces can be intentionally created is not new, intentionally practicing them is what is so needed now.