“No fixing, saving, advising, or correcting each other.”
A Circle of Trust “Touchstone” at Parker Palmer’s Center for Courage and Renewal
I am always tempted. Tempted to fix, save, advise. Someone says something to me and I wonder: what is that person really saying underneath what she is saying? Is that person saying: I need you to fix this? Probably not. So why should advice come out? And yet it does.
Someone in my meeting sent me some queries with an open-ended request: what do you think? Well, it depends. My usual reaction is to think the situation depends on me: I have to fix/save/advise. What would happen if those responses were unnecessary? If I were only being asked to listen because someone needed to be heard?
On the surface listening would seem to be easier. Yet it can require holding back, not responding unless requested. In practice listening is harder than it appears. It’s not for the lazy or what the Buddhists might term “unskillful, ” a term meant to suggest that one needs to practice a skill, and practice makes one more better at it.
We who are Quakers get regular practice in listening. In our Meetings for Worship, we listen expectantly. We expect to hear something from the Spirit. That listening is hard. Spirit is invited, but cannot be dragged in. Making an effort is less successful than stopping effort and only noticing. The body is still but the mind is very active, thinking about fixing/saving/advising: Now that committee meeting didn’t go well. I should have said…
Listening is hard because we live in a noisy world and the insides of our heads reflect that. Sitting in silence we eliminate some noise, but not all. Sitting in silence means not eating mental junk food, reaching for a Flamin’ Hot bag of habits and distractions.
There are of course times when people need to be saved. But these should be obvious. An earthquake in Nepal has killed thousands of people. Those who were trapped needed to be saved. Nepal will need fixing for years to come. We who want to help need to be advised on how best to do so.
But when life offers not dreaded emergencies but blessed opportunities to connect with others and grow, are we listening expectantly? Or are our own ideas getting in the way, like false gods?
What if saying nothing were a gift to be given? Go ahead: I’m all ears. Oprah Winfrey, one of my favorite spiritual teachers, said pretty regularly: people just want to be heard. The Spirit, too, wants to be heard. Very occasionally, the Spirit shouts if you’ve really missed the message. But usually the Spirit speaks, or listens, through others or in a sudden tiny epiphany: a thank you or good job or isn’t that beautiful. Isn’t that beautiful doesn’t need correcting.
Listen for the epiphany. It’s on the other side of the anxiety, beyond the fixing and saving.
Queries: What do you hear when you listen?
Is there more than one kind of listening?
(Nodding trillium, depicted, lives in Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, which does need fixing.)