By Betsy De Gress
from Living Nutrition Magazine vol. 11 (Now Called Vibrance)
When my brother Pete was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer a few years ago, it was not long before the hordes of self-help books arrived on everything from feng shui to proper dying procedure. Phone calls from well-meaning friends and family offering “helpful” advice poured in. Our family even created an “alternative health fund” for him in spite of his resistance.
At first, Pete received all this gracefully, but inside, he was seething. During an early phone call with him, when I insistently tried to persuade him of the advantages of MY approach, his true feelings emerged as he yelled at me to "Back off!"
I was humbled, but my respect for him grew and I got the message. After that, I resolved to just listen to him from the heart, supporting whatever choices he made. I knew that it might be my last chance to make peace with him after a lifetime of discord between us.
Pete was a strong willed person. He had always loved finding his own answers, forging his own path. He took pride in making good, responsible choices.
He had experienced plenty of success in his life and was well loved. During his dying process, my family learned the importance of allowing him to stay in control of his waning life. We learned to respect that letting go of life, day by day, is a frightening process and the one thing the dying need most is deep respect for their wishes.
Come to think of it, that is what I want too. When people give me unsolicited advice, criticism, feedback, information and opinions, I feel invaded and disrespected. I feel as if the other person does not believe in my own intuitive sense of what is best for me at that time.
Whether a person is telling me how to eat or trying to “correct my thinking,” I rarely appreciate these bits of information. Even though my solution to a “problem” may seem wrong or careless to another person, I want complete freedom to learn in my own way unless I specifically ask for help.
Why do we humans have the urge to “help” others with our comments? Why do we feel the need to enlighten others with our solutions? I have observed that when I myself feel this urge, one of the main reasons is that I find it difficult to withstand the pain I perceive in another.
So many of my own painful, dark emotions have gone unresolved that I often find it difficult to witness another’s suffering without trying to make it go away. At times, this has been automatic and I am not even consciously aware that what I am really doing is avoiding my own issues.
Although the urge to "fix" others' difficulties may stem from compassion, many times, this distances me from my friends and loved ones and erodes trust, rather than drawing us closer. My tendency to offer advice also comes from my own desire to be heard and have community.
I have often wanted so much to feel this that I offer my “knowledge” as an expression of my wish for companionship on my own path. For example, when I began transitioning towards a raw food diet lifestyle, I proselytized about it to practically anyone who asked how I was doing. I feared being alone on this new adventure! Ultimately, I had to learn the hard way that since everyone is different, each one has their own agenda for change of any kind, and I must respect this.
Many holistic healing approaches teach that the physical body has powerful innate intelligence beyond our conscious awareness. This intelligence is always at work, attempting to maintain balance in the physical body. The body naturally knows how to prioritize its functions in order to achieve this balance.
The human psyche also has its own exquisite knowing. Each of us has an intuitive awareness of what we need and when. The same solution to a problem may resonate differently at different times in our lives, depending on whether it suits our conscious or subconscious needs and desires.
Similarly, a solution to one person may be objectionable to another. The choices people make are a clue to their needs and priorities. Sometimes a person needs to try a solution to rule it out or to gather information about themselves. Each step along the way reveals more answers to the individual. Each time we are trusted to find our own answers, our inner strength is enhanced.
Instead of others’ solutions, what would I rather have? Listening. When another human is respectfully present with me, without judgment, I begin to feel the glory of who I really am. The experience of being deeply heard is far more healing than receiving unsolicited advice or opinions. When someone listens to, empathizes with and validates my current situation or feeling state, I feel my breath expand and my body relax.
The gifted listeners in my life have helped me find the deep and lasting solutions hidden within my own consciousness. A skilled listener sees the great vision hidden inside a complaint, the beautiful ideal behind the sadness, the unmet need buried in the hurt, the dreams behind the excitement.
I envision a world where people give each other the gift of respectful, deep listening. I see an environment where, instead of jumping in to “fix” a situation or compare notes, we practice total empathy with one another, thus honoring the perfect wisdom within each of us.
In learning to listen, I have needed guidance. Without the attentive support of others who are ahead of me on the path, I could not experience the deep satisfaction of being heard. Without being deeply heard by compassionate loved ones and mentors, I would not know how much of a gift it is.
Those who have the patience to listen without ego provide one of the greatest services on the planet. These people model love, acceptance and peace and allow their “students” to experience themselves freely, without judgment.
For me, being present and respectful and honoring others takes intention, patience, dedication and awareness. Opening to these qualities coincides with learning to listen to my inner self and recognizing my own unique rhythm and needs.
In this space of listening and empathizing, I feel that very sense of true connection which I have so often attempted to realize by trying to coerce others into my way of thinking. Giving the gift of deep listening may be a lifelong practice but one that is richly rewarding as I witness the deep breaths and see appreciation in the eyes of those who feel heard.
What does optimal breathing have to do with listening, deeply and respectfully? Quite a lot actually. More in touch with feelings , you have your emotions without your emotions having you, more in present time, relaxed, calmer and clearer, heart centered focus and so much more. And co-meditation or cross breathing can when appropriate help the dying transition in peace.
Thank you Betsy.