The healing medicine of listening

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force… When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”
Karl Menninger

We were sitting in a circle in my living room.  As the talking stick made its way back to me, I listened to the stories of those gathered.  Truths came from depths not touched in a long while. 

In the center of the circle was a candle, lit, surrounded by objects of significance brought by the participants.  We had gathered to listen.  We were there to open our hearts.  We were there to witness. 

It was a large group, around 15 people, coming from many backgrounds.   The subject that day was “Resilience:  tell us about a time when you were resilient.”  Our time together opened a wellspring of vulnerability.  I heard stories of poverty, stories of loss, and stories of unspeakable sadness.  And there were stories of triumph and growth.

We listened in silence, without trying to commiserate, fix, judge or triumph over.  By listening to the words and hearing the heart underneath the words, we were good medicine for each other.

Our story is who we are

What I learned from those years of leading talking circles is that the stories we tell make us who we are.  We tell what happened in our past as a way to remember, and as a way to reinforce what’s true. 

Our stories shape how we see the world and show us how to behave in response. 

We see horror every day through the for-profit news channels, but many of the stories that tell of our compassion and love have never been told.  We have protected them in our hearts so deeply that we have forgotten them. 

Everyone has a story of love, of family, of loss.  Everyone has compassion. We seem to have forgotten that everyone is just doing the best they can. 

The story we currently hear in the media is that we are a divided people, split apart by racism, violence and cold disregard for humanity.  The Media Dreamkiller is flooding us with negative emotions and feeding us a story that pulls us away from our humanity.

Is that what you want?

I don’t.

I believe we have a choice.  We can either repeat that story over and over and deepen it into our collective psyche, or we can choose a different story.  Dreamkillers are bullies.  They demand all your attention but fizzle when challenged.

Let’s choose to put our attention elsewhere.


Just listen

First, listen to what you are saying to yourself.  Our minds are little chattering machines!  Notice what it’s telling you.

Are you fretting over injustice?  Are you seeing threatening scenarios in your mind?  Are you losing hope?  Are you rationalizing to justify your actions?

Remember… that angry post in your Facebook feed, or your favorite political pundit ranting to make your blood boil has an agenda.  Their agenda is to intensify emotion.  When you’re tethered to their message through emotion, especially fear or anger, then the message controls you.  They are Dreamkillers.

The heart cannot be heard when the brain is flooded with emotion.  

Your inner truth will surface in quiet moments.  Start by taking three deep breaths and listening closely to what’s around you.  Are there birds singing?  Do you hear traffic?  Feel your feet on the ground or the weight of your butt in your chair or car seat.  Become fully aware of your surroundings.  Let the emotions pass through you like fog lifting from the forest floor.

Then shift your attention to what feels good.  It might be:

  • exercise
  • helping others
  • being in nature
  • meditation
  • growing a garden
  • creating something through your art
  • skill building
  • loving what’s around you
  • counting your blessings

In those times, your truth surfaces.  Learn your own truth first, then share it with those you trust.  Listen to their truth.  You’re here to love what’s in front of you, not manipulate it to suit your opinions.

And then, listen to the people crying.  Everyone has tears that arise from pent up frustration, from injustice, from pain. 

Stories must be told. 

Listen without judging or blaming.  Listen without trying to fix.  Listen without commiserating.  Accept that humans are humans.  When we begin to hear our humanity, we can change the world.

Just listen.  It’s good medicine. 

Listening heals.

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