In a world where talk is cheap and fast, to feel listened to is a precious gift. That is why I have practiced reflective listening for several years via Living Compassion. It’s created a structured program, with clear and precise guidelines for how to participate. Each quarter it assigns reflective listening “buddies”.
Last night I dreamt that my buddy had called my phone and left a long voice mail (which is not allowed in real life) because I had not been around to answer it. In the dream, I tried calling her back to have a reflective listening call, where each of us has 15 minutes in which to speak and have the other person reflect, without cross-talk or conversation. Except my dream self couldn’t get the tablet-sized device to switch to phone mode. I kept touching the handset icon but nothing happened. Then my device started playing music which I couldn’t figure out how to turn off. I am not sure which was worse about this mini nightmare: the technology that seemed to have a mind and life of its own or the missed opportunity for a genuine, refreshing and even intimate connection.
In our conditioned world, it has been my experience, much of the time, that when I open my mouth the person or people in my vicinity have not actually listened. They might use what I have said to share something about themselves, contradict me, offer unsolicited advice, change the topic, deflect with a joke, or try to point out something positive or reassure me when all I want is to be heard and witnessed in the moment. Period. To listen is, in theory, so simple yet, for many people, almost impossible, given that we’ve have been taught, from early childhood, to have an answer or a response because silence or even a brief pause is “awkward” or uncomfortable.
Through reflective listening, I have discovered that even heavy or distressing thoughts and beliefs can quickly lose their weight or charge when someone just reflects (or repeats) what I have said back to me. That way I can hear myself more clearly, and sometimes I will laugh at the absurdities the mind creates, absurdities that feel true when they are not exposed to the light of day and to the nonjudgmental ear of a listener. To reflect for my partner is just as powerful. In listening to him or her without jumping in to offer advice, ask a question, or otherwise interfere or steer, I hear echoes of my own conditioned mind. I become aware of our shared commitment to discover what is actually true for each of us, rather than what we’ve been told to think or believe. It’s been a rare reflective listening call when I haven’t hung up feeling calmer and even more joyful than I was beforehand.
When I got out of bed after my bad dream, I double checked the time of my reflective listening call for this morning. I made sure I had my earbuds available. At the appointed moment, I dialed my partner’s number. No one answered, not even voicemail. I tried again and, this time, heard the prompt to leave a short message, so I did. I suspect, but can’t know for sure, that she had forgotten since we usually reflect on Wednesdays and, this week, we switched the day. Perhaps the bad dream had prepared me for this disappointment, and reminded me that there is more I can do to reduce my use of technology and dial down the mental static it creates so that I can be more present, whether my buddy is available or not.