Twice a week, I lead discussions among young adults in which we explore the benefits of living a healthy physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual life. The experience is sacred to me as I’ve quickly discovered a deep love for this sort of thing, and the feelings my students leave me with afterward make me want to hug every stranger on the street. Which I will not do.
(But I thought about it!)
I think part of what makes these two discussion groups so special is the amount of time I get to spend listening. Listening to the questions, concerns, joys, and struggles described by people who come from all over the place, each with their own story to tell.
Listening to the smiles that spread across their faces.
‘… it makes me feel like I will never be completely independent.’
Listening to the tears that fall past their chins.
‘… I’ll tell myself I’m not allowed to be upset or depressed because around the world there are people in far worse situations than me.’
Listening to the silent expressions shown in response to hard questions.
‘… I didn’t want to need help just to feel like myself. I thought it made me weak or not doing ‘good enough’ in therapy that I needed medicine, too.’
The art of listening is not simple, and I’m still training myself to strengthen this muscle every day. As I train, I learn over and over and over again that listening is not solely done through soundwaves. It’s a full body skill. To listen to an individual speak is to listen with my ears, my eyes, my heart, my mind, and my body language.
‘… I didn’t like the stigma and was afraid of being judged.’
Listening is hard because listening asks so much of the listener, patience in particular. And as a listener, I have to continually remind myself to not speak before it’s my turn or rehearse responses in my head while a friend or acquaintance trusts me with sensitive information. Listening is hard because it doesn’t appear to be the fix I may assume the other person needs.
‘… I didn’t want people to find out.’
But I think, when it comes down to it, my desire to want to fix a person is more often born out of my desire to fix their pain so I don’t have to feel it with them.
‘… I did not want to rely on a pill to ‘keep me all right’, and my parents were also against it. Plus this also felt like admitting something was wrong with me.’
That’s the hardest thing about listening – sitting in someone else’s thick, messy, mud puddle, saddled up next to them as if we happened upon it together.
‘… I received unwarranted comments of disapproval from people… convinced that antidepressants are addictive, unhealthy, and are a crutch that people rely on because they aren’t ‘strong enough’ to cope with anxiety or depression on their own.’
But it’s my belief that if each and every one of us commit to strengthening our full body listening skills, then our ability to truly – and patiently – listen in a mud puddle, whether next to a loved one or a stranger, will serve to
and empower those who have felt, or feel, like the men and women quoted above.
‘I hesitated to take antidepressants recommended by a professional because…’
Were you listening?