LISTENING TO EACH OTHER
It’s amazing what can happen when you listen very deeply to someone without coming to conclusions about them, without telling a story about who they are.
A few weeks ago I met a woman who seemed very, very angry with me, and I had no idea why. I use the word ‘seemed’, because we can never really know someone else’s experience. She barely made eye contact with me as we spoke. She was red-faced, never smiled back at me, gave short, tense, replies and seemed uninterested in my answers to her questions. It really seemed as though she didn’t like me at all. Had she come to a conclusion about me that was upsetting to her? Perhaps she had read something about me, or someone had told her something? I have had that many times before – people coming to conclusions about me because of something they’ve heard or read – before they have even met me. Thought loves its conclusions.
I stayed out of conclusions and gently asked her a few questions about herself. I was genuinely interested to find out more about her. I wanted to know who was there under the façade. I was curious: what fascinated her, what upset her, what was she moved by, what did she long for? She slowly began to open up, stopping occasionally to check if it was safe, if I was still there. It was. I was.
It soon became clear that the ‘angry’ façade was only unconscious self-protection. It was a wall designed to keep me out. Or rather, to keep herself separate, safe, out of harm’s way. She had been nervous about meeting me, she told me, assuming that I’d be a scary and inhuman ‘nonduality teacher’ who would just preach “there is no me and no you and all suffering is an illusion”, and who would not care about her, or listen to her, or even see her. She had encountered teachers like that before on her spiritual journey and had closed off even more tightly as a result. They talked the talk, she said, saying beautiful things about unconditional love and compassion and the absence of the ‘other’ – but they didn’t walk the walk. They seemed more interested in themselves and their own story than anything or anyone else.
Now that she could see that I was not identified as a ‘nonduality teacher’ and that I had nothing to preach and wanted nothing from her, and that I only cared deeply about her present moment experience, she could relax and allow herself to open up to me. She admitted her nervousness over meeting me (her ‘anger’ had really been fear of rejection!), her doubts, her pain, and I was able to listen, and hold her experience as my own, and not reject her for feeling what she felt in the moment. It was clear that under that ‘angry’, defensive exterior was a deeply sensitive, vulnerable, fragile human being, just looking for love, longing to be heard, longing to be held. I wonder how many people would be able to see through her hard, protective façade to the soft fleshy, fascinating living breathing being underneath? Who would help her feel safe enough to open up? Who would truly meet her, and not play teacher or judge? Who would facilitate her unfolding?
Thank goodness I never came to the conclusion that she was an ‘angry person’. Thank goodness I never judged her as ‘stuck in her story’ (which would have been my own story). The sense I had about her never solidified into a judgement about a separate ‘person’. I had stayed open to meeting deeply the one in front of me, in all her richness, beyond all conclusions that she was a this-kind-of-person or a that-kind-of-person, beyond all personal judgements at all. In staying open to her, she had absolute permission to open up to the fullness of herself, and we truly met each other. I may never see her again, but we touched.
Later, with tears in her eyes, she came up to me and apologised for the way she had ‘treated’ me when we met. She said “I must have come across horribly cold and insensitive…”. I held her hand, told her that it was okay, that I deeply understood, since once I too had lived in that place of total disconnection and fear, seeming angry all the time, misunderstood by even those closest to me, when all I longed for was to be met. There was nothing to forgive her for. I was in awe of her honesty. Our meeting deepened. Life to itself. There is truly no ‘other’, no separation, only the appearance of such.
I later heard someone mutter, “Wow, that woman is so awful, so cold, so angry, so horrible….” But I knew otherwise.