Is Anybody Listening?

January 19, 2011

A friend and I sat down to do a tarot card reading.  Instead she spilled her latest newsflash—a former colleague asked her to marry him three weeks ago.  As quickly as the offer was made, it was rejected.  I was the first person she had told—not her best friend, not her adult children, and not her spiritual mentor.  I was stunned by the news and flabbergasted to discover that she had let so much time pass without sharing this life-changing proposal with anyone else. 

This got me thinking.  How much time had this exchange occupied her thoughts?  How much energy had it usurped from her daily routine?  My friend longs to write her memoir, yet little progress has been made.  I suspect the emotional unrest of this thwarted proposal has contributed to her writing stalemate. 

A Heated Internal Dialogue

Certainly a marriage proposal, especially one not accepted, causes an internal dialogue—more than likely a heated one.  If it goes on for a while and isn’t shared with someone else, an internal dialogue can overshadow our other rather “regular” thoughts.  It can turn obsessive quickly.  When that happens, we’ve got a serious case of mental and emotional clutter!  This form of clutter can distract us from being productive, keep us from being direct and honest with others, and, if it goes on for too long, derail us from our life purpose. 

Everyone benefits from a loving, objective ear.  We need to be heard.  Aren’t we all comforted when another person validates our feelings and concerns?  I believe that is why many people get married.  They find a partner who listens with a kind and caring heart.  If they don’t have a husband or wife, they find a friend or several friends to share the vicissitudes of their life, and if that doesn’t work, they seek the help of a therapist or spiritual counselor.  Many, however, don’t believe it necessary to get this kind of professional help and end up stuck in the sludge of their unexpressed thoughts and feelings. 

The longer we let these thoughts remain unexpressed, the more they expand and, probably get heaped onto issues that were never adequately addressed or expressed when certain events occurred in the past.  We talk to ourselves and make judgments about the role we played in getting to this place.  If disturbing thoughts have been stirred up, we may begin to blame ourselves or others.  The inner chatter when left unaddressed begins as a murmur and can end up a deafening roar.

If we obsess about it, this stuff becomes the dross of our thoughts, and if we repress it, it becomes sediment that gets etched into the recesses of our brain.  These troublesome thoughts will remain until they are skimmed off the top or excavated from below—only by articulating them to another or engaging in some form of healing work, usually with another.          

Are We Willing to Be Vulnerable?

Perhaps the bigger question we need to ask is whether we are willing to be vulnerable.  This means exposing the not-so-stellar sides of ourselves to someone else.  Uh-oh!  My beautiful exterior persona is cracking.  When that other person finally knows my baser self, will he reject me?  Will he see my weaknesses and run in the other direction? 

We will never know the answers to these questions until we take the risk.  But be careful!  I’m not advocating sharing your deepest concerns with everyone or anyone who will listen.  No, you must be discerning and circumspect.  Sharing your most intimate thoughts requires trust.  

You may find the third definition of the word vulnerable in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition) pertinent to this discussion:  “liable to increased penalties but entitled to increased bonuses after winning a game in contract bridge.”  We are not playing bridge here, but the game of life.  If the other person doesn’t run in the other direction, but sticks around to hear more, we have a chance at deepening the relationship.  We are heard and validated.  We are no longer alone.  Someone cares about us and we care about that someone.   

Not only that!  In addition to discovering we have a partner (perhaps several) in this game of life, we can emerge from the distress of perseverating thoughts and feelings and take the next step.  Our worrisome and sometimes insomnia-inducing concerns crumble.  In time, we ready ourselves to rectify the situation or release it to the annals of life experience and move on. 

Relationships Change

Of course, things aren’t always simple.  Relationships change.  Trust ebbs.  We find the people who were there for us last year may have moved on or we have grown beyond them.  They are no longer available to us or we to them.  Julia Cameron in her book Transitions captures the essence of this thought:

“Connections are alchemical.  Friendships are not static.  They are living entities that grow and change.  Sometimes my friendships become strained, undergoing mysterious seasons of estrangement…My friendships are organic and evolutionary.  My friendships are catalytic and transformative.”

If we detect an unsatisfactory change (i.e., the trust has cracked or listening has been traded for judgment), it’s healthy to acknowledge it—at a bare minimum to ourselves and optimally to the other person.  Maybe the tear can be repaired, but if not, let’s honestly admit the change, so we can take the initiative to go elsewhere to share our innermost thoughts and feelings.  Holding onto mental and emotional clutter dulls our soul and hardens our heart.  It clogs our creativity and blocks our growth.  A trusted friend or professional is worth her weight in gold because she listens with a caring heart.

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