Recently, my family and I stumbled into Half Price books in Redmond, WA after the fabulous happy hour at Matadors. We often walk around about while slightly "happy" just for fun and to walk off a bit of the joy, if you know what I mean.
When in a bookstore, which is an all too rare experience these days, I browse through the self-help and psychology books since that's my interest, lookin for good bits, inspiration, insights, etc and on this occasion, I happened upon "A Way of Being" by the founder of humanist psychology "Carl Rogers". Aside from a minor in psychology and many years of direct study with excellent therapists (Ron Kurtz, Amina Knowlan, and Jon Eisman), I haven't read a great deal outside my specific training, so there is much for me to learn out there. That's not for lack of trying, but I find most to be narrow, or not resonant enough with working from place in mindfulness. In this case I found something that not only validated my beliefs, but my personal experience.
Rogers described his experience listening to others in way that really resonated with me:
There is another peculiar satisfaction in hearing someone: It is like listening to the music of the spheres, because beyond the immediate message of the person, no matter what that might be, there is the universal. Hidden in all of the personal communications which I really hear there seem to be orderly psychological laws, aspects of the same order we find the universe as a whole. So there is a both the falsification of hearing this person and also the sanctification of feeling one's self in touch with what is universally true.
Those who have been with me in groups have heard me say something like "for me, being in group is like being at a symphony. Each person is their own unique instrument and has particular sound or "vibe", and this blends and harmonizes with others, or are perhaps discordant. The each individual is unique and contributes to the overall sense of the group - but the key thing is that it is a very rich experience overall. One I enjoy very much.". So I was rather astonished to read a similar sentiment from Rodgers.
Embedded in this is the message that the story of the another person is not as important as you might think. That is my chief objection to "talk" therapy - it is pretty inefficient when you can cut through the crap and get the essence of things by listening to the "whole:". Paying attention not so much to the story, although there are of course important details that really matter and in a few cases, telling the story is in fact the focus of the session but in most cases, its not the details that matter - it's the WHO THAT IS SPEAKING. What are they saying about their world view, beliefs, core values? All of this on display almost all of the time if you just look for it.
The late Ron Kurtz created an exercise in his Loving Presence workshops, called "Seeing Through" that gets directly to this point. You break into small groups and one person is the actor and the others are "observers" so to speak. (Actor in the case simply means the person being themselves while involved in an activity as opposed to the common theatrical use of the term). Observers are asked to be present with their experience of the actor and simply "see them" directly and clearly, without judgment. (Keep in mind that in context, this exercise occurs after hours of mindful work in groups that helps to loosen the grip of our day to day obsessions with thoughts.. So this isn't something were asked to do just do just coming in off the street.) While the observers just sit quietly and witness, the actor is directed to simply take a few steps and walk across the room. On the way pick something up and put it down. Then sit down in front of the group and recite - "Mary had a little lamb, it's fleece was white as snow".
In my group, the actor was very large, German man who was quite but friendly in group, Did I mention he was large? Football defensive back large. A big guy. He a gentle voice however that stood in stark contrast to what you might expect. That got my attention earlier. The difference in his voice and his physical body. Like when you see a beautiful worman that is making herself unattractive and small - you KNOW somethings going on there.
We took a moment to get mindful and watched him as he gently got up and walked across the stage in measured steps. then very, very carefully pick up a glass of water which looked tiny in his hands. He then sat down slowly and carefully in front of us and in an soft voice, almost like he was talking to his granddaughter, "Mary had a little lamb, it's fleece was white as snow". Then we were all silent for a few moments pondering this experience. What stood out to me was how exceedingly careful this big guy was in his movements. He was LARGE, but he moved with extreme awareness of his movements in space as. It seemed as if he was aware of every part of his body and afraid the he would bump something and have it crash. I thought - he has learned to be careful like that over time because he is such a big person. The phrase "bull in a china shop" came to mind, but I was thinking about very careful bull moving through a china shop in a way so as not to disturb anything. I took a chance and communicated these thoughts to him and he looked genuinely touched, then started gently crying saying "yes, its just like that". And so I followed up with that must have been underneath it "you must know what its like to hurt someone and not mean to" - and that was the centerpiece for him. His we desperately careful in moving around cause somehow in his life, he had cause some harm unintentionally. This can happen with men sometimes who "don't know their own strength" and are learning, like puppies when they play, that some things are too much - some things are too delicate. When a puppy gets hurts in play there, there is a loud yelp, then a pause, and back to play. But we aren't puppies. Some injuries are emotional and like physical ones, leave scars too - for both the wounded and those who unintentionally wounded others. This really beautiful man was trying very hard in his life to be responsible physically and not hurt anyone. And, I would guess that his personal wounding would simply around issues of expression: "I must be extremely careful. It's not safe to be around me. It is dangerous for me to play."
When you are in the right state of mind (I would actually say these days, the right state of being), just observing someone do simple actions can reveal a great deal about them. Rogers said "because beyond the immediate message of the person, no matter what that might be, there is the universal."
When you are present with another person, and you really listen, you can hear and see the universal speaking and moving through them, and talking to the universal in you. When you are in touch with that and respond from a place of being connected to such a unifying force - it changes you. It changes them. It changes everything. In this way, the world can be changed. From such a simple act as just being present and really listening - while it may seem like something very passive - it quite the opposite. It is extremely active. This is the very heart of compassionate, mindful communication. It will change you. It will change others. It will change the world. There is no other way home.