Last Updated: November 1st, 2018
“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?”—Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher and writer, often speaks about the power of deep listening and the effect this can have on another person. When we practice deep listening, we can ease so much pain and suffering. We do this by being fully present, in the moment. There is no need for us to speak—by being present, we can simply offer our attention and create a space of deep stillness and acceptance for another person.
“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”—Pema Chödrön
Our culture tends to place great emphasis on self-awareness and recognizing our pain, but there is an equal or perhaps greater emphasis placed on the idea of offering solutions, changing, “fixing,” or “getting rid” of anything labelled unpleasant. But what if we paused for a moment, examined our relationship to our own, and other people’s suffering, and changed our approach? What if we just breathed together, not trying to change anything or offer solutions, but simply let the other person speak and acknowledge what they feel? To paraphrase Pema Chödrön, it is alright to allow ourselves to feel what we really feel.
There is something radically different about being in the presence of someone who allows us to just be with our suffering; someone who accepts our emotions and thereby encourages us to do the same. As human beings, our emotional and mental landscapes are like the waves of an ocean. Sometimes the ocean is still, and other times the waves are turbulent and unsettling. These painful times are an opportunity to truly get in touch with ourselves and others. Pain makes us and the people who love us feel uncomfortable. There is a shifting, a turning-away-from, a diverting of attention—How about we go see a happy movie? How can I help you to feel better? What can I do?—we want to help. We want to relieve suffering, but we are not necessarily addressing the suffering itself, only the outward manifestation of it.
“To be loved means to be recognized as existing.”—Thich Nhat Hanh
When Thich Nhat Hanh talks about “deep listening,” he is talking about addressing the suffering. We do this by listening to understand, as opposed to listening to make the other person feel better. We take a deep breath, and recognize that we do not have the answers. Now is not the time for solutions. It is the time to understand, to heal. And when we truly understand another person, we can offer such a beautiful gift. True love grows out of deep understanding and a deep appreciation for another human being. True love recognizes the human-ness in each other. We recognize each other as existing. And that is perhaps the greatest gift we can offer another person.