In my work I see myself as a keeper of secrets, a guardian of stories. I am given the privilege to bear witness to the depth of pain, mistakes, and wishes unfulfilled women carry. For me there is nothing more satisfying than hearing a woman’s truth because it runs through my body as chills.
My work is possible because of one of my most treasured gifts, the ability to listen. When I say listen I don’t mean hearing the words a person says. What I mean by listen is; quieting my mind and listening with all my senses. When I am deeply listening to the stories of the women I work with my mind is completely still. I am not thinking about the next thing to say. Sure, sometimes thoughts come into my mind. When this happens I simply notice the thought and let it go. However, for the most part I am stepping into all of my senses and listening from there. When my mind is still I am able to listen with my whole body. As someone is talking to me I am pulling in information from the words I hear, the tone in the voice, the way in which the body is moving or not moving, the movement in the eyes, the energy around the person, and the emotions behind the words being expressed. When I am listening from this place my whole body is following and reacting. Many sensations run through my body like, chills, tension, stiffness, and butterflies.
My body has a different level of listening and reaction than my brain. When I am listening with my body it feels like it is communicating the emotion and the meaning behind the words. When I am listening from my brain I am analyzing, I am trying to figure out something worthwhile or profound to say, or I am judging the person and/or her experience. When I am listening from this place I feel disconnected to the person. Actually, I miss much of what is being said and more importantly I miss the meaning, the feeling, and the emotion behind the words.
As a deep listener, a lot of the work I do is modeling this skill. The main avenue in which I work is through circles; moon circles, healing circles, book circles, song circles, mama circles, art circles. I have done this type of work with women for over 5 years and girls before that. I find that women and girls want to be seen and heard. Every woman has a story to tell that needs to be heard by someone who can hear it with an open heart and no judgement. Women want to know that the pain she feels or has felt matters and someone cares enough to hold authentic space to hear it. What I love about circle work is that at least 10 other women get to do this for one woman. It is simple, but powerful. For some, being heard can alter the pain around the story which allows a woman to embrace the story in a different way. To me this is exciting because I know how powerful and transformative listening can be and in circles I get to see that happen right before my eyes.
As a facilitator of circles I try to keep a circle safe from judgment so the sharing can go deep. I find this is done if I am able to hold boundaries around how we listen to one another. If I don’t state this boundary then women miss seeing and hearing each other because they are stuck in giving advice and trying to change how a woman feels. This creates a sense of not feeling safe and therefore women are less likely to be vulnerable. The less vulnerable the circle is the more the topics tend to be about things outside a woman like the annoying co-worker or complaining about not getting enough sleep. It is in the listening that people feel safe enough to break down barriers to being vulnerable.
Although I love to listen it is still a practice in which I need to monitor how I am listening. Sometimes, when the topic gets uncomfortable, it takes gentle reminders that our work is not to save or fix a problem, but to just hear what is being said. Hearing the pain a woman shares and allowing it to creep into our bodies can be scary. When we allow another’s pain to creep in, we are allowing the woman, the story to be a mirror. We are reacting to what we are hearing because there is something in it that we have experienced or we fear to experience. When we see the mirror, we see the parts of ourself that are ready to be healed. We then can choose to heal those parts that we have rejected or closed off from. We are giving ourselves the right to feel, the right to see, and the right to be seen. It is in the feeling that we learn where we are in life and what we need to heal in order to move forward.
So next time you find yourself listening to a story try to quiet your mind. Don’t try to find ways to be helpful, clever, silly, or wise. Instead allow your body to hear the meaning behind the words and communicate that to you, follow its lead. If you have a negative reaction use that information to look at what is it in yourself that is not healed or what is it in yourself that needs to be seen and heard. If you can come from a place of listening first I guarantee that it will deepen your relationship to yourself. Being deeply listened to can be one of the most empowering experiences you can offer another person. Sometimes the only things a person needs from you is to; see, hear and acknowledge that she matter and her story is important.