Listening to my inner stories and my needs
Over coffee this week a friend asked me if it was normal to have imaginary arguments with people. I smiled (the me too smile :-)) and shared how I used to have intense imaginary meetings with my boss in the shower every morning before work. These ‘meetings’ were always heated and always involved me trying to prepare for the outrageous or unfair thing that I just knew they were going to say that day.
What an enormous drain on my energy! I feel quite tender towards myself as I remember those days and glad that today I have other ways of managing the challenging relationships in my life.
So what is it that works to soothe my nervous system when I am thinking about people who I struggle to connect with?
Breathing first. Breathing and connecting to my body I find all the places I am holding tightly. I give a few moments to the little tension in my neck or the stone in my chest and I meet them with some gentleness. I make a compassionate enquiry into these tight places and make some empathy guesses as to what might be going on for them. And I listen.
To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear. – Mark Nepo
Often this is enough to shift everything completely and to allow me to go forward with openness and curiosity about what will arise in the space between me and this other person….and sometimes I need to do a deeper work into uncovering what is calling for attention.
Here are the questions I ask myself when that deeper exploration is needed – often I choose to write them down as I find clarity often emerges quite differently when I have a pen in my hand!
- What is it I see or hear this person do or say that stimulates strong feelings and judgements? – I make sure this is a clear observation, something that could be recorded by a video camera or voice recorder, so as to remove all the imaginary stuff I layer onto the relationship and support me to get really clear and self-connected.
- What do I feel right now as I think of this? – What emotions do I feel, distinct from thoughts such as ‘she doesn’t care about me…’ or, ‘they always ignore my ideas…’ I want to get really clear about my feelings. This requires more vulnerability than just letting my mind run away with my evaluations and analysis of the other person and their motivations. Am I feeling sad, irritated, anxious, lonely, confused, frustrated, disappointed? What is really going on, here and now inside of me? And I breathe a little more deeply. The knots of tension loosening as I put my attention on what lives in me.
- What do I really long for? What do I need? – Am I longing for consideration? Respect? Support? Would I be nourished by a focus on clarity, or does it really matter to me that there is care and understanding for us both? I notice how precious and human it is to need this….what ever this is. I rest for a while and breathe in deeply how much I would wish these qualities to be present for everyone.
- What could I ask of myself or someone else to make life more wonderful? – What would help me meet the precious needs I identified above? Perhaps I want to ask someone to listen to me as I share some of the struggles I am experiencing. Perhaps I want to ask someone to support me to have a courageous conversation. Sometimes asking for some empathy, from someone willing to listen deeply, is enough to soothe my frustrations and sometimes I need help to connect with the feelings and needs of the other person. If I don’t know what would help I ask someone else to explore ideas with me.
Give it a try and if you have any questions, or would like to let me know how you get on I’d love to hear from you. You can send me a message through the website or on my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I send you warm wishes from a sunny south coast and armfuls of cherry blossom scented blessings.
May you be well.
May your days be full of sweet connections and may you find extravagant beauty in small moments.