While facilitating some empathy skills training recently, I was reminded of a powerful lesson.
(I learn so much from each of you!)
Participants were paired off, practicing their empathy skills, when a pair called me over for some coaching and input.
Although they were successfully focusing on feeling and need data, the net effect was that the speaker was getting sleepier and more checked out during the exercise instead of more deeply checked in and more connected.
Confusing, because they were “doing it right” by focusing on feelings and needs, and isn’t that supposed to work?
The speaker described contrasting experiences of both confidence and self-doubt. She felt hopeless and overwhelmed, noticing herself flipping between both self-soothing and self-recriminating thoughts. The more she talked about it, the more she wanted to check-out.
The listener, in turn, noted that she wanted her friend to “feel better.” She wanted to get her to focus on positive things, strategize and help. And, working against this impulse, she was trying to focus on the speaker’s feelings and needs instead – as directed.
The energy was falling flat. Going nowhere.
We reflected on what might be arising within each of them and impacting the space between them. Each of them was experiencing an inner conflict – working against themselves as a result of internalized templates prescribing what was “right,” “good,” “healthy” and “helpful.”
Although the practice of attending to feeling and need data is helpful, it isn’t always enough, especially when something unknown is trying to make itself known.
When you aren’t getting the results you’re hoping for, create space for something new and previously unknown to emerge:
Drop your attachments to “right.”
Drop your agenda about what is “supposed to happen.”
Notice and accept whatever is arising in the present moment.
Greet everything with loving, compassionate awareness.
What if nothing needs to change? What if nothing is wrong?
Perhaps exactly what was needed was actually arising, and just asking us to watch, notice and get present to what was with us each in the moment.
We settled into the experience of hopeless and overwhelming.
We got present to self-judgments arising in the space.
We got aware of inner impulses to “do it right.”
We relaxed into the unsettled experience of not really knowing what to do next.
We got present to “not knowing” and observed it.
And then it happened.
In a moment of collective silence, the speaker suddenly perked up – “I just realized something … what if it’s OK to be hopeless?”
Her eyes lit up, she smiled and her energy shifted. She came alive.
“I’ll just lean into it … what if hopelessness is actually OK?”
Such soothing relief resides in being able to touch on an experience, a feeling, in community with at least one other person, without making it wrong or needing it to go away. So often, the insights we need arise from within when we slow down and create space to hear them.
The speaker lit up and beamed: “I feel hopeless. And happy. And awake.”
Hopeless and Happy. Imagine.
Releasing the idea that hopeless is “wrong” and needed to be “fixed,” she was able to draw her energy back through her experience and “woke up” – literally and figuratively.
So, the next time you find yourself stuck in an old dynamic, not sure what words to use and feeling yourself at a loss for new options, you might try simply getting present.
Are you …
Resisting a feeling?
Believing that something is “wrong”?
Feeling an inner conflict?
Resisting a truth?
What if everything that is arising in this moment, just wants to be seen, known, accepted and loved? What then?
Naming it, neutralizes it.
Feeling it, heals it.
“Not needing to make things happen, one understands deeply.
Needing to make things happen, one learns about practical matters.
Core and surface are parts of the same whole.
It is in being open and innocent that the possibility of understanding arises.”
(Ron Kurtz, from “Grace Unfolding”)