Recently I traveled to Toronto, Canada to participate in the World Parliament of Religions conference. The first event I attended was The Alchemy of Women’s Collective Wisdom and Power. One of the opening presenters of this session was Kay Lindhl, founder and director of The Listening Center and author of The Art of Sacred Listening. She opened her presentation with the statement: “The answer to how is Yes!” – a thought that gave me much to ponder. She closed her presentation with a profound question, which I then asked a small circle I was leading: “When was the time when you were deeply listened to and seen and how did it change you?”
Everyone in my circle had a vivid story to tell. For myself, I told a story of an intense telephone call. My husband Michael and I, with some other couples, had purchased some land in Mendocino County in Northern California. It was 88 acres of creeks, springs, forests, and meadows. It also had several dwellings where we could share in a cooperative living situation. The houses were heated with efficient wood burning stoves and the water was delivered from springs through water lines to the houses. This would be a huge change from living in a five-story building in San Francisco that housed our living quarters, our business, our studio, and our archive.
We had spent weeks sorting through everything and whittling it all down to some manageable collection, which was still embarrassingly huge. Having been on my feet for days, I was so exhausted by that last evening I could barely walk because my feet were so sore. The moving van was packed and the next day we be heading north.
Not realizing, besides my physical fatigue, how emotionally depleted I was, I made a call to the one phone that was connected to the property up North. My dear friend and brother of my heart, Jody Baxter answered. When I heard his voice, I could not even say hello, I just burst into tears. For a very long time, many minutes, I just sobbed and sobbed into the phone. It was one of those deep, deep wrenching, blubbering, even wailing, cries from the heart. I felt Jody’s presence at the other end of the phone. He never said a word. He never asked me “What’s wrong?” He never asked me “How can I help?” He did not interrupt my weeping. He knew instinctively that the best thing he could do was to be there and hold me in a most profound and deep listening way. When my tears subsided, I thanked him and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” The gift that Jody gave me was to trust the moment and to witness my strength and courage, knowing that my tears were not those of weakness and despair.
I’m still processing what those tears were truly about. But I think that they may have been heralding my goodbye to a life that I had known as I stepped into a new adventure that was full of mystery and a nameless future. I’m forever grateful to my circle brother Jody, who was available to me in that moment of extreme uncertainty, allowing me to wash off the old life with my tears and step into the light of my next adventure.
In a recent interview with Linda Graham, author of Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back From Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster, she said, “Being truly seen, understood, accepted, and validated by another person for who we truly are encourages us to understand, accept, validate, and value ourselves for who we are. It helps us to develop the inner secure base of resilience that is essential to navigating the world with calm, courage, and competence. It’s what allows us to trust other people both as refuges and as resources for resilience.”
Being deeply listened to by a compassionate friend can create a field of healing when we experience the tenderness and loving compassion of deep listening. Whatever upset or distress we’re experiencing, we can also experience and let in the tenderness of care.
You may want to share a story of your own with a friend about a time that you were truly listened to and changed by the exchange.
– Justine Willis Toms
P.S. I’ve been in circle with Jody Baxter for over 35 years. He has held me, witnessed, and supported me through a myriad of life transitions. He’s the founder and creator of the nonprofit organization: worldprayers.org, which is a website that has gathered the great prayers written by spiritual visionaries of our planet into an online database representing all life affirming traditions. I highly recommend this site.