It’s Thursday when I write this, a day after I usually post, but the delay is due to a very good reason.
Yesterday I spent the morning not blogging or working, but talking to a friend (at a safe distance due to Covid.) We’re close, even if we don’t talk as often as I would like, and she was going through some stuff. Prior to accepting my invitation she had said: “But I don’t want to bring you down, I always talk about negative stuff.”
I could’ve said: “But that’s not true! We laugh all the time!” I could’ve told her that every story she shares with me is a privilige. Or that I actually really want to be there for her in the hard stuff.
I already know those words wouldn’t mean much to her, even if they’re true. The only thing I could do at that time, and during our conversation yesterday, is to listen to what she said, and to the feelings and the needs behind it, and to hold space.
Being present with someone else, really holding space for them, is not easy. It takes the conscious effort of putting your own thoughts, your own feelings and needs to the side for a moment. You stop thinking about what to cook for dinner, or what your mother said yesterday, or even what next to respond. Instead, you have to get comfortable resting in not knowing, in not controlling, in silence.
Last Tuesday, I had my first class in the course I’m taking to become a Life Coach. We talked about how to conduct the intake session for a new client, and our teacher saw it fit to let us try it out right away. I was assigned the role of coach and one of my new classmates, still a total stranger, became my first client.
I found myself somehow nervous, and talking more than I should. I was painfully aware of any silence that fell between us. I felt the need to fill it up with more questions, more information. I started guessing, filling in the pauzes in the other person’s sentences, when I could’ve just let the silence settle and give air and space to the other person’s story.
I learned once again that truly being present is about partly letting go of your own ‘self’. It’s about focussing, zooming in on the other person’s world and their experiences in that world. It’s about trying to understand as much as you can about their story, in as far as you can. It’s about listenening without judgement.
You do this by shifting your focus completely. If you still hear your own thoughts chattering away, then pay them as little attention as you can.
And no, you don’t have to lose yourself completely. You can sink into your own wisdom if the other person asks you a question in return (there’s no need to have the answer ready before the question is asked.) You can pick up cues from your conversational partner for what they might need that you could provide. Maybe it’s a word of comfort, or a reference, or a joke, or… .
I find, however, that what most people really need, is just to have their story heard and respected. To have their emotions held in the warmth of another human’s presence. They just want you to BE there with them.
It’s the most beautiful present we can give another.