I recently met a woman who trains horses. She loves them and talks to them all the time. "Jane" said her horses are wonderful listeners -- the best in her life in fact. They instinctively know when she is down, and they comfort her with their gentle, attentive, and loving presence. Jane explained the silent communication so well, that I started envisioning the interaction. Suddenly my brain shifted to "Mr. Ed," and I thought how annoying it would probably be if the horses started to speak back. Jane didn't need advice or words of any sort. She just needed someone to listen; to hear what she had to say; to sit with her as she walked through her pain or joy; and to simply allow her to express her feelings. What a lesson there for me.
When I think of communication I automatically think of speaking. How well do I communicate? Pretty darn well I think. I speak clearly and concisely, and I make sure that the other person understands my words. But communication involves non-verbal gestures as well. A simple hug or smile; a wink or a nod; a handshake or holding hands; not to mention doing nothing at all -- simply listening. We often get the most comfort from animals who just sit there and listen to us. They seem to know what we're feeling, and somehow they even seem to walk through the pain with us. They don't respond, they don't sympathize, they don't judge -- they just sit there, and they give us the gift of their loving presence. We don't feel frustrated or angry -- we feel understood, and that is comfort enough.
My spiritual director once told me to WAIT when I feel the need to respond. It's a wise and handy acronym that reminds me to ask myself: "Why Am I Talking?" I have to be honest though -- I don't use it enough. For some reason, I have the unfounded idea that the other person needs my opinion not my presence. Even in situations where there is nothing at all to say -- I feel I must say something -- and that is usually the worst thing I can do. If someone is venting, grieving, or suffering in any way -- what on Earth could I possibly say that can help? They just need a loving ear -- someone fully present -- to hear them and to listen.
I've always said that "Love is an action." I guess I don't think of listening as being an action. Yet a warm and sincere hug is much more powerful than a spoken "I love you." A gentle hand wiping away a tear is much more powerful than a spoken "I'm sorry." A glistening eye; a squeeze of the hand; a kiss on the cheek -- all speak volumes and might actually be hampered if followed by spoken words. And in a technological society that is sorely lacking in basic human contact -- nothing can be more powerful than a simple touch. We long to be connected in a very basic, human way -- to be touched, to be heard, to be loved. Today I am going to remind myself to be quiet and simply WAIT.
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