A small brown bird with a yellow beak, a frequent visitor to the garden, has begun imitating the sound of the clicker. This has resulted in great confusion for the new puppy and for me. The housemate thinks this hilariously funny. The same clever little bird can also imitate the sound of a cellphone and the shrill of a car alarm.
This week I have been thinking about the language of the heart and that softening which comes from letting go of the need to control oneself and others in a harsh, compulsive manner. This is something I first began learning about in therapy.
These days most psychotherapists have learned to redirect their attention from gathering information about the client to attending to the client’s actual experiencing in the living moment. The idea was that my therapist and myself were going on a journey together and would try to explore issues and difficulties together with as little defensiveness as possible. To imagine myself being heard rather than judged was a great leap of faith for me.
In our sessions together this meant that I would mention something that made me feel bad. Unhappy. Uncomfortable. Angry.
The therapist would then say: ”So let’s just sit here with that feeling of discomfort, and see what comes up.”
Then we would sit there in silence, and eventually I would say something else. She would say, “So how does it feel to say that?”
After a while, stumbling and reluctant, I would say, “Well, it feels really horrible.”
She would say, “So, can you tell me what feels horrible about it?”
And so on. Trying and failing and trying again. Saying the hard stuff and staying with the feelings that came up. Not covering up, not pretending, not denying how horrible it felt for me right then and there. It was really about myself and her finding just a way to explore what I was feeling. Her job was to stay out of the way and provide a space for me to explore the feelings.
Once in a while she would provide some guidance when I was blocked, but normally she would just let me explore what I was feeling, and would always encourage me to “Hang in there with that feeling for as long as you can, to see what it tells you.”
And little by little (painfully slow, painfully hard work) I began listening to myself beyond the criticising and hating and self-loathing, without dismissing, trying to justify or excuse or prop myself up. Because of that I found after a while that I could hear people differently, without blame or praise or fault-finding. I could just listen and hear what it was like to for them, how it felt to be them.
Kindness doesn’t happen overnight. Compassion can’t flower in an arid desert. There has to be groundwork and deep attending to what happens in any human life, what is being said and left unsaid, the richness and beauty and anguish of another’s life. And the freedom to pay attention to our own suppressed voices within, the longings, the dread, the dreams.