Piglet sidled up to Pooh. “Pooh”. he whispered.
“Nothing. I just wanted to be sure of you”.
Over the years as a pastor I had the privilege of being with people in just about any situation life can bring. Everything from the more expected experiences such as illness, death of an adult, marriage and family struggles, divorce, job loss, lack of money, sitting with families in hospital waiting spaces, to the more intense and sudden tragedies of death by way of an accident, suicide, SIDS, death of a child, various forms of abuse, and murder.
I use the word “privilege” because that’s how I always saw it. We are entering holy ground when anyone invites us into their inner experience of deepest feelings, and says to us, “Be with me.”
Looking back, let me just say I know I meant well. Ha! (see Post 14 about laughter and not taking yourself so seriously). When I was younger, I really did care about whomever I was with. But I made it too much about myself, and not the people I was with. I was so hung up on what I was going to say or do.
With that in mind, here’s what I learned about sharing the sacred territory of “being with.” Moses had his 10 commandments. Here are my 10 suggestions.
1. Think in terms of calmness and compassion. “I will go into this situation with a calm spirit and compassion.” When it comes to human relationships of any kind, remember first that everything/everyone is energy. Relationships are primarily energy exchanges. It is the energy we share with someone, and not what we say or do, that will have the greatest effect.
I love what the great poet Maya Angelou said, “people will probably forget what you say or do. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” Their energy is embedded in us, body and soul. In almost any situation where there is pain, our focused presence of calm and compassion is what anyone needs above all else. Always remember that you affect people simply by being there. For better or for worse. That’s not a choice. That will just happen. The only choice is what kind of affect do we want to have?
With that in mind, if you are not living in that calm and compassionate energy, take some time to do your inner work to get there. I love what neuroscientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor wrote in her book, “My Stroke Of Insight.” After suffering a severe stroke and having the left side of her brain virtually shut down, the right side of her brain was running the show (the place where emotions and feelings are processed). She had a sign put up in her hospital room, “Be responsible for the energy you bring into this room.” Being responsible for the energy we bring is vital to any relationship or circumstance.
I can’t tell you how many times as I was driving over to a difficult situation, or after I parked, I would breathe deeply. I asked my guides for help, repeated “All is well”, and reminded myself of the importance of the energy I was bringing to the situation.
Those of you who may be a Type A, extrovert, high energy, get ‘er done type person, will have to do more intentional work in this regard. Someone with my temperament has an easier time. Sometimes I swear I could put espresso to sleep!
2. I learned to repeat the following as I entered into any “being with” space. Leave your agenda at the door. So often when we are with someone going through a struggle, we first go to “what will I say to her/him? I want to make them feel better, so I’ll say or do…” We don’t know what they need. Always assume that.
3. If words DO come out of your mouth, give priority to questions not platitudes. I’ve heard people say so many (to put it as kindly as I can) unhelpful things to hurting people. Unhelpful things that completely pass over their pain. Why? I know they may have been spoken in an attempt to comfort and help. But who are we really helping here? If we were to be honest, we often say things because we are uncomfortable. It’s much better to ask an open question like, “what’s this like for you?” Or “What’s going on with you at this point?” “Are you feeling better?” is not an open question. Or say something from the heart, such as “my heart goes out to you.”
4. Then Listen. Listen with as much focus and presence as you can. Have you ever noticed that voice going on in the back of your mind when you’re “listening” to someone who is sharing their experience? The voice is immediately formulating what you’re going to say in response. Just as soon as the person ever stops talking! The longer the person speaks, the more eager we are to talk, and the more our attention is pulled away. Again, who’s being helped here?
When you listen, listen above all for the energy they are giving you, and not as much to the words. You have to be totally present to receive this. Again, relationships are primarily energy exchanges. When you gain a sense of the energy, ask another question from the feeling you are getting.
5. The voice in our mind often wants to respond with what our experience has been. We’ll say something to the affect of “Yup. The same thing happened to me when…….”. And the conversation suddenly is all about us! And the experience we’re sharing is not like the other person’s experience! It never is!
We may want to share our story to “help” the other person to know they are not alone. But here’s the thing. If we’re paying attention at all, it’s usually obvious the person isn’t interested at that point in what your experience was. They can’t be! They are hurting so much that their only need (or capability) is to talk about their experience. The only other need in this kind of conversation is our need to talk about ourselves. Oh my goodness, WE DO LOVE TO TALK ABOUT OURSELVES, don’t we?
Only share your own experience if you’re confident your experience will be helpful to them, not you. And we’ll only know that after a whole lot of questions and listening. The key question is why am I sharing my experience?
“The older I get, the more I listen to people who don’t say much”. Anonymous
6. Practice reading the room. I’ve learned over the years to feel the energy when I first walk into the room where a family, couple, or individual is sitting. Here again is why leaving your agenda at the door is so important. What you may have planned to say or do, may not be a fit at all. Or it often is a matter of timing. Timing is so important. This is why we have to be flexible. We have to learn about being spontaneous and how to think (or feel) on our feet. We need to learn to listen to and trust our intuition.
7. I’d suggest dropping the whole “I’m going to make them feel better by saying…” thing. I mean really. Have you ever heard someone (or yourself) say, “Oh wow. That takes away all the pain of this. I’m suddenly so happy now. Thank you!” If we’re trying to make someone feel better by something we’re going to say, the other person probably isn’t yet in a position to take it in. They need to process some more. Which leads to…
8. Always remember that the soul comes here to experience what it specifically needs to experience. It’s not only not our place to try and take away the struggle someone may be having with an experience, we have no right to do that. The person we’re being with needs to go through whatever they are experiencing, so they can learn from it and find another way (on their own). We simply walk with.
9. Trust your inner voice/intuition in knowing when to be there. Timing is everything. Your inner wisdom is often aware of the other person’s energy, and knows the right time and the right way.
10. At my retirement, I said that all I ever wanted to be was a safe place. A safe presence for people to enter into and be accepted. A space of grace where people could feel whatever they were feeling, think whatever they were thinking, and it was all OK. No judgement. In other words, be the essence of the Divine. There is no greater gift we can provide another person than being that kind of safe harbor.
That’s quite a bit to think about. Can all this be put into one sentence? I think so. Remember…and bring what you already are. Love!
”Pooh”, said Piglet.
“Nothing. I just wanted to be sure of you”.
Pastor Tim Tengblad