Thursday, March 19, 2020

Listening and being heard

This morning I attended a phone meeting for a group I’ve been a part of off and on for about a decade. This group has a pretty solid structure for how it runs.  It begins with a check-in, sharing of readings for focus, and then things are opened up for personal sharing.  When someone shares there is no response from other members of the group outside of the moderator thanking them. 

It was no surprise to me that the main focus of people’s sharing was the C19 pandemic.  A lot of anxiety and fear were expressed, frustration with glitches in the transition to working from home, and thoughts on how each person was finding ways to cope. No one is required to share, and I actually chose not to.  I just listened. 

For reasons I’m not going to get into here, I carry a lot of shame around the expression of certain emotions.  Anxiety is one of the big ones. One of my coping mechanisms when I am stressed or anxious is to shift my focus onto something external. Sometimes this takes the form of trying to solve everyone else’s problems because it feels safer than acknowledging what is going on with myself, and other times (as it has now) I will take a deep dive into studying whatever the issue is convinced that knowing more will ease my anxiety.  What actually usually happens is that I eventually become overwhelmed which causes me to either burn out or shut down.  

This morning, as I sat there listening to other people share their stories without responding or offering advice, I realized how much I needed to have a moment where all I had to do was listen. I wasn’t trying to solve anything, fix anything, or educate myself on something.  I was just listening.  And slowly, as the stories progressed, I found my body relaxing.  Tension was released from my shoulders, my hands unclenched, and my breathing slowed. 

I also took a lot of comfort knowing that others are feeling the same things.  My feelings of shame around being in a state of anxiety and fear dissipated.  As I write this I feel present in my body for the first time in days. 

There is something so valuable in being able to share how you feel and not getting a response other than acknowledgement.  No advice. No judgement. No assessment.  And there is something equally powerful, though different, in being the one who listens without trying to fix it.  

I hope each of us is able to find places to do this today and in the coming days.

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