Listening with your heart

Bhavana is a blogger, a social activist and a dear friend who blogs at Tilling the Earthwoman, where she writes from the heart. Her posts are wrenched out of her gut at times, searing in their impact. At other times, she writes with a feather touch, about the people she meets and who leave their mark on her; and yet at other times she is the crisp researcher and academician, who puts her points across in a sensible, no-nonsense manner. She is a survivor in the true sense of the word, as she has not let her suffering make her bitter. Instead, she believes in compassion and gives of herself unconditionally. She calls me her blog mother — and I feel humbled by the title.

In the previous post on this blog, I had talked about us getting involved when an injustice is happening. Listening is one way of doing that. Just by lending a sympathetic ear, one can alleviate the pain and suffering of a victim, sometimes even prevent a crime. So when she offered me this post, I thought it would be in logical sequence.

In this post, Bhavana shares some points that a ‘deep listener’ has to keep in mind while lending her ear to an anguished person. Read on…

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 “The listening is a process of contraction, of stepping back and creating a void into which the other may enter. It is the distance “I” create so that “you” may come forward.” –Lisbeth Lipari, 2004

This post is dedicated to those who listen.

What is there to listening, you may ask. Well, it is an art, a therapy, a spiritual act, no less. But for listening to be effective, the listener has to do it with her heart, else the one being listened to finds no solace. How often do we catch ourselves tuning out when someone is talking? ….cut into their words and talk of our own experiences, hoping to make them feel better and less alone? ….are impatient?  There are a lot of other things besides, which we indulge in while listening, making us less than ideal listeners. This perhaps explains why many choose to remain silent and suffer….and thus perpetuate violence and exploitation.

As the country spills over on the streets protesting against sexual violence, old memories creep back in and wounds open up for many existing rape survivors. I noticed in the past days that several of my facebook friends who are rape survivors, stopped posting updates, never shared the latest news, or if they did, shared something funny, even frivolous. I could understand that the protests were churning their hearts.

Under such circumstances, while some become silent, others start seeking a listening ear—to speak of their grief, of memories, of a pain that refuses to dislodge. And then the listener becomes a key figure. But we are not talking here of mere listening, but deep listening.

It is not difficult to become a deep listener. All it takes are a few techniques, which this post aims to provide. (I have used the pronoun she or her but feel free to substitute it with he or him as needed.) I do not write this as an expert but rather as a person who has received deep listening over the years and understood why I felt listened to and therefore soothed.

But before I proceed further, there is a small note of caution: Although you might be the best and kindest of friends who can listen with compassion and empathy, sometimes it is not enough. Also there is no substitute for professional help. Do seek local resources and encourage her to use it, if you feel it is needed.

These are just a few things to remember while listening deeply:

Don’t judge, argue,  advice, get angry and most of all — please don’t pity:

  •  When a friend calls you to vent her anguish or rant or express frustration, please understand that she wants a safe space where she can express her fear/anger without being judged. She may not be calling you for solutions or advice. So refrain from giving her those. Instead, give your heart, your presence to that moment and witness her pain. No more. No less.
  •  You don’t need to calm the person down, if she is angry or confused. She will calm down by herself when she feels listened to. Do not argue; do not debate; do not point out how it is some peculiarity in their personality that had caused the event. They already feel helpless and vulnerable, so don’t add to the feeling.
  • When a friend is in grief and very sad, please do not say that you disapprove of it and will be angry with her for being sad. She is already isolated in her grief, guilty about her helplessness and does not need one more person being upset with her existence.
  • While showing sympathy, avoid offering to do things for her like buying her groceries, cleaning her house, or doing or saying anything that says, ‘poor you!’ It will make her feel helpless and put her in a cycle when she will come to depend on you. As a good friend, help her figure out things for herself. The only way she will emerge out of her grief is when she finds strength and power in herself.
  • When a person is in extreme grief and talks about hurting herself or taking a radical, possibly destructive decision, do not say she is stupid and that you thought she was way more intelligent or strong and that you are surprised at her behaviour.  Your comment only helps to validate her self-belief that she is stupid and worthless.

Show empathy:

  • When a friend is sad, use words of empathy: ‘that is tough,’ ‘your heart must be hurting,’ ‘that is painful,’ ‘I hear you,’ or vocal tones which express empathy. But listen honestly and with sincerity because those who are sad also tend to be very sensitive to nuances in your tone and words.
  • When a friend who is grieving or angry, asks for advice, allow them to figure out solutions as much as possible, by themselves. You can say: ‘Hmmm, okay how do you think you can handle this situation?’ Often she would come up with solutions of her own and when she does, applaud her efforts. While the solutions may or may not be good, it is a wonderful thing that she is regaining strength and insight to deal with her emotions in the process of finding it. In short, help her to help herself.

What do you do when a friend is suicidal?

  • Please stay on phone or online with her. Just keep her talking. You can even ask her how she intends to do it and evaluate how close she is to tipping over the edge. Appreciate her efforts to call you and say that it is very courageous of her to do so. Keep your voice calm – it will relax her. Breathe for her.
  • Those who are suicidal are sometimes self-obsessed and do not think about the consequence of their actions. Remind them of their loved ones. But sometimes this can have the opposite effect. In such cases, you can say things like how hurt you will be if she did something tonight after speaking to you and how it will impact your life. You can even say the next day is a special day for you — a birthday or anniversary maybe — and how the day will be scarred if she hurt herself today. The point is to make her aware of others because she doesn’t see them in her present state.
  • When she begins to ease out a bit, make her promise to not hurt herself that day/night and get her to say it. Do not end the conversation unless you are absolutely sure she is ok.
  • And afterwards, please do not become overprotective of her. You will be rewarding her behaviour by doing so. Just be a friend and stand by.
  • Do encourage her to seek professional help. Find local suicide hotlines and encourage her to use them. For those in Chennai, Sneha offers excellent listening at 044-24640050. You can also visit their website http://www.snehaindia.org/ (Some helpline numbers are given at the end)

Take care of yourself, Listener!

Listening is not without its own perils. A session of deep listening can sometimes take too much out of you, leaving you drained and exhausted. It is therefore important that you know how to take care of yourself after a session.

  • You are able to listen because you have emptied a portion of yourself to receive the other. This also means you will absorb the negative energies of the other.  While there are some healing herbs that you can rub on your hands, you may at the very minimum wash your hands and face after a deep listening session. Some choose to listen to soul/chakra cleansing music; some write a journal; some have strong spiritual practices.
  • Do find a friend that you can talk to because some of what you hear will trigger your own pain. A good mindfulness session after a deep listening one will help to bring you back to the present moment.
  • There are times when your listening might not be enough or help. In such an event, please learn to be kind to and forgive yourself. You can only offer your ears and hearts but how well that is received is a combination of grace and her own life path. Please don’t blame yourself if things don’t go well.

Listening is a wonderful spiritual practice. It is also a great social service. Try it. For something that is so simple, it can be life-changing for someone and you too.

Some helpline numbers:

AASRA, Mumbai (022 27546669) (24 hrs)

SUMAITRI, Delhi (011 23389090) (daytime services but weekend  till 11 pm)

Sahai, Bangalore (080 25497777 —  from 10-5PM)

Hotline Nagpur Area for farmers (08888817666) (in Marathi only)

Homepage picture by Swati Maheshwari

122 comments

  1. […] students for the entrance exams.  And if he is reading this, I would like him to also read the  lovely post written by my dear friend Bhavana on how to […]

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  2. It is a truly enriching post on the power of listening and so many of us don’t. Thanks for this ne coz I have learned so much, in particular, listening to music.

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  3. sheethalsusan · · Reply

    Listening can do wonders!

    Wonderful post!!!

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  4. It’s a very thoughtful post, and yes, we all need to listen with our hearts, don’t we?

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    1. We certainly do, Otto. Only most of the time, we forget or ignore to.

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  5. It is usually a clear call for help. And is made to the person closest. But sometimes, in spite of knowing the situation and seeing one descend into gradual depths, some do not react, thinking, it’s his/her problem, I have nothing to do with it… and that pushes the one seeking help even further down the doldrums.
    Very apt and maturely written article..

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    1. When one’s cry for help, silent or otherwise doesn’t get the response it deserves, the result is usually disastrous.

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  6. useful guidelines

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    1. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, SM

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  7. Made lot of sense. And very comprehensive coverage in all aspects. You should write a self help book. You can write better than most people in the market – both local and international.

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    1. Thanks for the faith TF. At times I have wondered if I should attempt an Oprah Winfrey-:) And then remember the price to pay for everything…shudder and retreat -:)

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  8. Bhavana I’ve read this post thrice and am still absorbing the beauty of your words . Like you I too believe there are positive energies and there are negative energies
    and coming to think of it I think I am a good listener . 🙂 I don’t advise unless asked and I just make my presence known to the person . However when I am teamed up with persons who simply love to boast or go overboard in self praise , I switch off totally . Recently I discovered such people don’t need listeners . They need “Yes” men/women around them 🙂

    However like someone here pointed out …it is the time when we listen to ourselves that really make a difference …listen not as in a knee jerk reaction …but listen as in silence when your mind is totally uncluttered and you are able too see every thought of yours with guileless mind of a child ….how often do I do that I wonder …sadly maybe not many times 🙂

    Thank You Zephyr for this wonderful post :and giving us an opportunity to read these lovely insights by Bhavana 🙂

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    1. I forgot about those folks who call to just hear themselves speak! Thanks for reminding! Ok, listening is for those in emotional crisis, unless you call those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder as also those in crisis-:)
      Yes, I agree with you on the listening to ourselves part. Uncluttering the mind is a very difficult process, but sometimes I think if we can let the sun in through the dense vegetation, it is enough-:)

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  9. I agree Zephyr that such helplines should be of 24 hrs. SAHAI has its own constraints. Limited volunteers who are house wives,retired people or students all are offering their time for the helpline purely on voluntary basis.

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  10. “SAHAI” (Phone No. 25497777) in Bangalore is one of the few dedicated ‘Suicide prevention telephonic help lines’ in India and first in Karnataka to help those who are feeling low, depressed, unwanted and need some one to listen to and share their problems. The services are free and callers are assured of total confidentiality and anonymity. The helpline functions from 10 am to 5 pm (except Sunday) with the option of leaving message during off time. So here is a helpline just a call away.
    (Website: http://www.sahaihelpline.org)

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this input!!!!

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    2. Thanks for the link, SRA, I will add it to the list. I am only upset at the way these helplines function — from 10-5, as if suicidal impulses follow the set timings. What if someone wanted to talk on a weekend and finding no one went ahead?

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  11. I have read this post of yours, twice, Bhavana! It is so inspiring! Now, my relative also read this. She too is impressed.

    I am a very bad listener and know it. I am trying my best to change and slowly I am changing. As you said if I hear anybody pouring out to me, I start ‘helping’ them and like you say here, it is not a real help.

    I have noticed that when we pour out and if the person who is really listening and not interrupting, we tend to know our problem clearly and as you say we might find a solution by ourselves.

    I have got the habit of blaming myself for whatever drawback we face. I know my mistake. Your advice might help me more now.

    Thank you, Bhavana and Zephyr for introducing Bhavana to us.

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    1. You know, Sandhya, the first step to becoming an effective listener is self-reflection and deep compassionate acknowledge of oneself! Unless a person is ready to do that, how can s/he ever create the space to allow the other in? So although you say you are a bad listener, I am wondering if that is truly so…thanks for reading and sharing. It makes our days:)

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      1. Thank you, Bhavana!

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  12. The Holy Grail of any relationship – how much of you are you making available for your friend. Soaked in every point you put forth, made some resolutions. Thank you so much, Bhavana for writing this post.

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    1. Aah, love this line: “how much of you are making available?” And that is the crux—the inability to empty ourselves a bit, to make room for the other. And yet how difficult it is to do that!

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  13. Well Said. Most often people dont come looking for solutions, they just want someone to hear them out.

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    1. Agree, Ashwini—most folks just need a ear or two 

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  14. . ” no one listens to/ understands me” is an oft heard lament. Thanks Zephyr & Bhavana for this post. We do need to be reminded repeatedly about the importance of listening. You have gone a step further by describing the process of listening. Kudos

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    1. Amrita, yes, I have myself used that comment so many times. The fact is a speaker in an emotional crisis is often very vulnerable and is still making an effort to reach out and resolve an issue. But when there are no listeners the crisis takes a new turn—sometimes frustration, sometimes deeper depression, helplessness etc.

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  15. Bhavana,

    Very informative post. In my career I learnt quite early that when someone wants to talk about his or her problems it is best to be all ears as while talking most of them come out with solutions which they do not see while being in that deep thought of problem. And what you say about person who is being suicidal is so right. Professional help is a must but first one needs to be taken off that thinking.

    Take care

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    1. Yes, Uncle Jack, just talking to a person who listens often allows us to clarify out thoughts and see the light. A person who is suicidal and calls you has made a huge effort in reaching out. One needs to honour that effort! You take care too 🙂

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  16. Brilliant! Beautifully elucidated!! Bravo!!

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    1. Thank you, magiceye!

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  17. Such a beautiful, touching, heartfelt post, full of empathy and information! Thank you, Bhavna!

    It is so sad that we need helplines and counsellors to talk to these days, and lesser and lesser people are finding a listening ear in their own homes. People listen sometimes, but often don’t hear.

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    1. So true! Yes, each of us should have been able to give a listening ear. In fact, I consider one of the crucial problems of democracy as lack of listening, not lack of “opinionating!” Thanks for your kind words. Will be glad if it is of use!

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  18. A very much needed post for me than anyone else, because I am such a bad listener. At least, that’s what I feel..I wanted to get over this bad habit for so long now…struggling with it..getting better by day..I mean listening in general..I have a patient ear to listen to grievances however…but what I learned today is just not listening..how we take part in listening…I have to read this often to keep myself reminded…Thank you Bhavs for such a wonderful post and BM, do I have to thank you more? Hugs to both of you…in this particular post, there is a lot to learn from the comments too…

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    1. Dear Latha, I hardly think you are a bad listener. You have the ability to be present and you naturally drain off negative energy. You heal instinctively. The pointers will simply help, if at all, in making you more perfect in your natural job. Hugs back!

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      1. I am awed by your confidence in me!! That makes me have a peaceful night with a happy sleep 🙂

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  19. Apt advice not just for the times we live in, Bhavana, but timeless advice. Listening to another person is one of the hardest things we’ll ever do, I think. It requires the kind of dissociation from the self that comes only with great practice. For example, I was having a hard time doing this even as I was reading this article. All kinds of thoughts were consuming me and getting in the way as I read each sentence.

    When we enter into a situation with our little agenda, we seem to lose the ability to empathize. And without empathy, it’s impossible to connect. And listening is one of the most powerful ways to connect. And, boy, it’s so hard to open our minds and put aside our agenda, even temporarily. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do is to listen to another person’s silence, not rush in to break it and wait for them to come forth.

    Great tips here! I like the “In short, help her to help herself.” Sums it up well, with just one caveat.

    I’ve long ceased to pretend that I can ‘help’ anyone else. I think all we want is a fellow traveler who’ll participate without prejudice and not necessarily solve problems in our lives. I don’t approach conversations with a mindset to “help” any more. This seems to have improved my ability to listen by a mile.

    If I may share one more personal learning – Seems to me that before we can learn to listen to others, we have to learn to listen to our own selves. If we can’t get ourselves to do that well, it’s unlikely we will do well elsewhere.

    On a lighter note – Was on my way to the train station the other day. So I tell the taxi driver, “Train leaves in one hour. It should take us 30 mts at normal speed to get to the station. So, take it easy. No need to rush.” And he replies, “No problem, saar. I’ll get you there in 15 mts.”

    Many thanks, Zephyr. A great start to 2013!

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    1. LOL, Srini re: the taxi driver! Hahahaha

      I see two important points that provokes my thinking. One is the notion of listener as a fellow traveller. Many years back, I had adopted the term “cojourner”—a Franciscan term employed to denote women who supported women who had taken the vow of poverty. I used this term for variety of things including the role of a researcher vis-a-vis the participants. Now I feel one could use this term for listeners also—somebody who walks and supports the person who is undertaking a deep journey. For all pain, in a sense, is also a spiritual journey to discover ourselves better and more profoundly.

      Second, I note the line “we have to learn to listen to our own selves.” Yes, agree. A friend once reminded me—you are your own best friend, philosopher and guide. We need to learn to befriend and

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    2. Thanks Srini for that comment. Yours always bring in a fresh perspective and insight into any post. I so agree about listening to ourselves. That makes us aware of not only who we are but also how to be receptive to others and also sensitive to their need/lack of it for any kind of listening from us.

      The anecdote about the taxi driver is really funny. Incidentally, is he the same one who wanted your advice about social networks? 😀

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      1. Hi Zephyr, I have a very large social network of taxi drivers who I’ve befriended over the years in many countries 🙂 Nope, this one’s not the same guy who asked me to teach him how to tweet (and offered to get me more friends on FB) 🙂

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        1. Have you thought of making a collection of their memorable quotes and anecdotes? With your inimitable style of writing such stuff, I am sure you will have a bestseller in your hands. And readers like me will be rubbing our hands in glee 😀

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  20. This is such a wonderful and extremely important post. Listening wholeheartedly to someone is an extremely difficult task and we sleepwalk through it on many occasions. But it is such an important habit to cultivate and it gives us a sense of happiness and fulfillment. It makes us as well as the other person happy and it makes the conversation more meaningful. But it doesn’t come easy and we have to invest time and effort to it. And you have written so wonderfully and meticulously all the good things that we can do towards becoming a good listener. Phenomenally written. 🙂

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    1. Thanks Raj for the words. Yes, listening is not easy. That’s why I call it as a spiritual exercise on practicing to listen perfectly. It is a form of meditation—where meditation means one-pointed focus, with no history or future, just the wholeness of this moment, to feel, to be completely with the other one.

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  21. Such a beautiful post. And yes listening is an art which is scarce now. People want to listen to their own voices.
    I try to listen and then what happens is more often than not, I get carried away by the other’s problem. It is so difficult to be separate or not get involved.

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    1. Bhagyasree, you make an important point about being carried away by the other’s problem. I do that too. It takes repeated practice and awareness to step back and listen

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  22. So beautiful and so direct dil se.. I’m seriously going to follow these pointers. Thanks Bhavana!
    One more reading that has helped me support my hurt friends is the book ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’, though I could only read a fourth of it.. the important learnings from it – simply listen to the woman and let her find her solution. she needs to be listened to. – make her feel important.
    I could relate the same in your post as well.. wonderful post, Bhavana!

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    1. Vinod, I agree. If we allowed more women the space to find their own solutions, that itself will empower them in powerful ways. Listening can be emancipatory! We forget simple solutions and instead spend time designing complex services! Thanks for the kind words and HURRAY, first time you ever commented directly on my post!

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  23. To handle the negative vibrations while this session, one can effectively use “blessing therapy” .Before starting the session, imagine a beautiful golden start in the centre of your brain, Imagine its positive, healing golden light is coursing through your entire body. Let this light travel from your heart centre to the person you are listening. Imagine this this light engulfing the person and healing her emotional wounds. Keep sending blessing throughout the session.

    This a very positive exercise to avoid the negative vibrations and also healing the person with your inner blessing and positivity.

    I hope it helps! Thanks for your kind words, Bhavana!

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    1. What a beautiful practice! This can help immensely in ensuring the listener is in a good space and the listening happens in grace! thank you for sharing this exercise!

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  24. Yes,lending an ear and a shoulder is a g big relief to the one who is being listened to

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    1. Yes, Chowlaji—just listening and lending a shoulder is enough and yet how many do? Without expectation, without a hidden agenda—to how many can we truly be vulnerable?

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  25. We learn the importance of listening when we feel the need for some one to listen to us. Yes, it takes a lot of patience to listen.
    Wonderful post Bhavana.

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    1. So true, Janu—we learn the importance of something when we need the most. Water in times of thirst, blanket in times of cold, a compassionate ear in times of pain…

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  26. Dear Bhavana,

    What struck me here was absorbing the negative energies. You are so right about that and I so agree with the cleansing bit so that is does not become a part of your baggage. Grief is universal. Grief is also personal. I know.

    I built a shield around me and was on auto pilot mode for a long time. Till I was ready to let go. And many tried to help in their own way but the heart was bolted from within. The repercussions were bad.

    So yes, being open to the idea of letting go of the pain and not necessarily the good memories, that is what should be the prime goal. The heart learns, in its own time. And because I know how much this must have taken you to write…………hugs 🙂

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    1. Your comment has made me think about an issue I had not included in this post. Some don’t want to talk, don’t want to share. We need to learn to listen to silences too and respect it. Not help when somebody doesn’t want to be helped or shut up and back off when we are not needed. Or expect everybody wants to talk. Each one copes in his/her own way. All ways are good and right. The turmeric that grows in shade will also bake in sun someday. Hugs back 🙂

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  27. Being 100 percent the listener and not rushing in to agree, empathise, surmise is indeed difficult, though we perhaps do so in the best interests of the speaker. Great post!

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    1. You know what, I think the day any of us can listen 100% without judgment and with complete presence, we would have attained nirvana! I think the perfect being is perfect because s/he can listen perfectly!

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  28. Such excellent suggestions here and something that I have read several times. The human mind and human senses are so amazing. You learn so much by listening to what they say. I was once talking with a young fellow at a wedding. This person is differently abled and has trouble speaking and hearing.(and I had known about this). We had no problem communicating , as he spoke in a limited way, the best way he could. But I could listen so well, by looking at his eyes simultaneously. He was so expressive. So I feel, that we must be alert to all the senses of the person who is speaking to us.

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    1. A small clarification in the first sentence. I meant to say that I read “this post” several times……….. 🙂

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      1. You have added an important point here, Suranga on listening to differently-abled folks. On how to be present for them, give them the space and time to communicate in their own ways and how it does not require more than the willingness in the heart to do so. If only our teachers learnt that with dyslexic kids and kids with mild autism and kids who are rebellious…

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  29. very very true , what you say is so true , in the day to day job I have seen that LISTENING helps change 90% of a situation, Just listen ..

    problem in the modern world is no one listens or has the time to listen the whole story , they are quick to make their mind on the initial few words said ..

    I think my job has helped me a lot in calming down and listening to people, otherwise i was a very angry and volatile too in the good old days of college ..

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    1. I bet you do, Bikram! In your area of work listening must be very important—listening in multiple forms. Doesn’t just good listening calm a person down? And yes, it also makes the listener more quieter. I also was a very volatile person (in some ways I still am) but have mellowed down so much both because I was listened to and I learnt to listen.

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  30. What great ideas/tips/advice in there. We are so wrapped up in our own petty problems that sometimes we completely forget to listen and the ‘I’ takes precedence over everything anyone else has to say. In fact, sometimes, we take offence if someone else does not listen conveniently forgetting that we may not have been patient enough to hear that someone else ever. Indeed, thanks for that reminder to actually say less and listen more, and listen more deeply.

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    1. Richa, so well put—“to say less and listen more and listen deeply.” If more folks did that I sometimes think half of our social problems will decrease—law makers and policy makers will listen and develop laws and policies that benefit, police will listen and file FIRs, judges will listen deeply and not let go a rapist because he was drunk….

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  31. DestinyBlaze · · Reply

    An excellent post Bhavna. It induced me a provocation.I wish every one at theprotest should read it

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    1. Destiny Blaze, a prayer that I would join in so that more people listen and learn to listen ever more deeply.

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  32. That was a beautiful piece of writing.Now I know why some rant sessions leave me depressed and dejected.

    Most people don’t need your solutions,they just want to open their hearts and pour out all the frustrations.

    We all need good listener friends.

    Thank you Bhavana for this post.

    Thank you Chithi for finding this awesome blogger.

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    1. Thank you for those sweet words. Yes, we do need listener friends. The quiet ones who allow you to speak are to be treasured—they are our stress-busters. And yes, some sessions make us gloomy. If you are like me very vulnerable, then you can also choose to wear a pretend raincoat, so that the words touch the coat and not your heart. It helps, believe me

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      1. The coat of detachment? It really helps and in turn the speaker as well.. 🙂

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  33. Well written!
    I guess listening comes naturally for some and for some listening requires to be developed. I have found one of the most important things in being able to listen is to never place ourselves on higher ground than the person that we are trying to listen to. In doing so (I have sometimes!) we tend to filter out certain things that the other person is saying because we would have already formed a perspective…

    I love how you said when we listeners need to take care of ourselves… that’s something every listener needs to do and do well!

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    1. Thanks for adding in your perspective Danny. Yes, we need to ensure the speaker feels at equal footing. How true, how easily we filter out of certain aspects of a person because of your pre-formed beliefs and judgement! Just the act of being non-judgmental is soooo hard!
      Yes, listeners need loving too

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  34. I have been called a good listener by my friends and I am glad that I follow what has been mentioned in this post. I believe that when a person comes to you to pour his/her heart in front of you, he/she is like a broken dam. We need to let the thoughts of that person flow freely before we try any healing or advice. Most of the times I have seen that the person calms down on his own.

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    1. How beautifully you write Amit! Yes, unless the river flows, how can healing happen? To facilitate that is the purpose of listening—a safe space with no levees.

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  35. Listening is an art. Being silent doesn’t mean that we are listening to someone (although certain people expect only silence). A good listener knows when and how to pause, continue and even terminate the conversation, at times without even speaking! I am not a great listener, but I have some friends who are. I prefer speaking straight, whatever be the issue. Truth may hurt, but it heals.

    Destination Infinity

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    1. Destination, glad some of your friends are good listeners. Yes, it is an art. Good listening allows a person to discover his or her own truth at a time and pace that is comfortable for them. Good listening ensures the speaker does not get hurt. I know of enough cases of folks who went and hurt themselves after a failed therapy session or a friend who didn’t listen. Some care is needed.

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  36. Hi Bhavana it is a great post disseminating great ideas. It is an art in itself to listen. In our society, every person is very scared of the other because of the great competition and the, struggle for survival. Our families are generally the breeding grounds for developing these competition and anguish. So one possibility is that, there is very little trust even among members in the family. So everybody is suffocated, not only victims of cruel violations like rape, abuses etc.

    So we can compare our society to a pressure cooker; and we are all trying to get some relief our of that and in that process this kind of notion about listening is very helpful.

    So, I think reading this post can help make some adjustment in everybody’s behavior so that he or she becomes good listeners.

    From my personal knowledge; I particularly urge all family members be good listeners. If we are good listeners we can avoid a lot of calamities happening in our families; and cannot forget that families are the building blocks of a society and of a nation at large.

    thanks a lot for your time and good will, carry on. .thanks to Zephyr as well.

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    1. Aah, important point you bring forth—that of the listening within the family. Yes, family is the basic block of human society. If any place, then it is here we need it. Yep, we are all suffocated and gasping for our life. But isn’t the family the hardest place to listen? We are submerged in shared histories, shared memories and truths resulting from how we perceived the same incident. The ability to distance, detach and offer oneself to simple prayerful listening is so utterly hard. And yet, isn’t this the place where we need it the most?

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  37. What a lovely post, Bhavana! Great tips you’ve given here.

    Yes, it is certainly important to be a good listener. And very difficult, too.

    Particularly hard to listen without being judgemental. Though most parents learn to do this in the years their children are growing up. I remember sometimes my kids used to tell me something that I disapproved of. I used to count to ten before responding so that I could speak calmly without scolding them. Otherwise they would have probably stopped telling me things. :).

    Thanks for this guest post, Zephyr!

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    1. Mothers are the people children naturally expect to be listeners. But on one, hand, as you pointed out it is so very difficult to be non-judgmental and on the other hand, some mothers don’t even try—leaving their children feeling very alone and guilty. It is amazing to note how you worked on ensuring your children got the listening. I sometimes think when women/men become parents, they should take variety of courses including listening to become better parents. After all, aren’t parents the anchor of the society, doesn’t future begin at home?

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  38. The biggest wisdom. Very rightly said Bhavna and some great pointers. Listening is the hardest thing to do but most rewarding as well.

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    1. Yes, Jas—Listening is huge and yes, it needs wisdom and courage and energy. And yet how rewarding it is for the soul and for the society!

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  39. I’ll try to recollect a small story I read:
    (Note, the person is talking about God, about prayer)

    First, I talked, and He listened.
    Then, both talked, nobody listened.
    Then He talked and I listened.
    Then nobody talked and both listened.
    Nobody talked, Nobody listened.
    Silence.

    (I’ll update the comment with the exact story – I have this book at home.)

    The concept of listening is not alien to me. Having been blessed with a booming voice, I try to use it as little as possible given that ears typically tend to be sensitive. I end up absorbing a lot, and there are a lot of experiences which I find reflected in your post.

    Most importantly, I find myself nodding to the points you’ve mentioned about taking care of yourself while listening. Listening is also mentally a very exhausting exercise, which then tends to express its results in a very physical manner – the body reacts as if you’ve been wrung in a dryer and behaves accordingly.

    While reading your guidelines, I started ticking off the items that I could find a connect to: there are so many times I have to hold myself from even opening my mouth – to give advice, to chide, or just give them a solution – I have to only give what is needed, not what I want to. And identifying the difference between the two is paramount.

    There too are times when I feel the need to slap the speaker – especially when the situation does not warrant the sadness. Obviously, I do not judge the speaker why they are the way they are now without reason. But I know what they are going through right now, for I have been in the situation in the past. This is the only time I give them advice. And I go through it step by step:
    1. I let them finish. Only when they have vented out, will they be in a position to even receive something.
    2. I point out the thoughts they are having, but haven’t stated yet. They are surprised how I’ve been able to read them correctly, and say that.
    3. I then state that this is not a unique situation in that I also have gone through it..
    4. I then ask them whether they want to come out of it, if not I end the conversation as a fellow sufferer.
    5. I then make them go through a step-by-step flow of thoughts and feelings, and how they are connected, and we arrive together at which link needs to be broken to come out of this chain.
    6. I then let them think how they can break that link. If they need my support, I am there to provide it, else am standing by. But they have to do the break themselves.

    Yesterday, I came across a quote on the internet that describes how I feel at times: “The worst part about being strong is that no one ever asks if you’re okay.” Perhaps I too need to find someone to listen to me.

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    1. Wow! You have put in a lot of efforts in not just listening but caring about listening! That takes guts, energy, and deep deep compassion! Kudos to you for doing that. I hope there are more like you.

      Yes, listening is very exhausting at times. It also requires checking and holding back our one’s ego needs, our own logic of things, our need to use the skills we have to “resolve this issue.” I am glad you found a resonance as I do in yours.

      I guess the only place where I differ slightly is folks in deep emotional crisis do not have the strength at times to think logically and logic at those moments intimidate them. But then again, helping them to switch to left brain, albeit gently, does help.

      I do hope you find a friend soon. Do take care. Be well always. In Solidarity!

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      1. For those deep into wherever they are, the colours of logic change so deeply that what we define as logic does not make sense to them at all. We have to delve into their logic to bring about a change, if needed, if we see them entering a void it will be difficult to get out of without help.

        One thing that society does is to make them feel guilty about whatever they are feeling. Feeling guilty for feeling depressed, feeling guilty for feeling sad, feeling guilty for feeling guilty.

        If, as a listener, we are able to express the idea that it is ok to feel whatever they are feeling, it is not wrong to feel so, half the problems are resolved. The other half will not be intimidating anymore.

        If someone is feeling guilty about doing some wrong – be it their fault or not (often, it’s not) – and then feeling guilty for that guilt, we first have to get them to understand that double guilt is unnecessary – that that original guilt is acceptable, good even. Once that double guilt is lifted, they will be able to come out of that guilt spiral and think how to atone for the original guilt, and come out of it.

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        1. Wow! What a lovely thinker you are! You truly care for the other!.

          I like this point about feeling guilty about being depressed and how a listener can validate a person so that it is okay to grieve, to sit with pain.

          Pema Chodron’s thinking has influenced me greatly. And some of my listeners also follow her. So when I am in pain, they encourage me to just sit with it, without judgment, with the double guilt you mention, and simply be with it. Such sessions help a lot.

          Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise and experience with all of us. Gratitude.

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  40. That was such a wonderful post, Bhavana. When you had told me about it all those months ago, I had expected a good one, but this one was so apt at this time, that I jumped for joy. We all listen, but not creatively or with our hearts always. The pointers will help us all to become better listeners. Thanks for writing for me 🙂

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    1. Dear Zephyr, it is like a dream for me to write in your blog space. I remember how I had first stumbled into your blog to read Raj’s post and this space seemed surreal to me. To me, it feels like I have come a long way to find a place in this space. Thank you for the joy and nurture you have always given me. In a sense, you “listened” to what I wrote. Gratitude for that.

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  41. as Osho says, when you are sad .. be in that moment . there’s nothing wrong to be sad ..

    i am a good listener .. that’s what people say me .. people say that i listen patiently.. wasn’t sure as to what i was doing was correct or not but after reading this post i realized that listening is also an art not everyone possess !

    my first time here ..

    Regards
    Rahul

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    1. Yes, listening is an art and a science and a practice. And you pointed out a good value here—patience. Listening requires patience, an ability to let go off of our own needs to “resolve this thing quickly.” Glad you are considered a good listener. We need more like you 

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  42. Beautiful post Bhavna. It takes a lot of patience and courage and sometimes effort too to listen to someone. and In those times when we get a lending ear or when we give our time to hear someone…it works as a balm to pent up emotions..

    I loved your post. And I am surely sharing it. Thanks

    A quote I always love ‘The world is giving you answers each day. Learn to listen’

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    1. What a lovely quote! I will keep that in my heart. Yes, listening needs effort. It is exhausting, especially when our personal mindfulness or spiritual practices are not strong. And it needs practice to become at ease in listening. Because we sometimes cannot hold back our judgments. But overall, I find it makes for a better human being.

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  43. Quite an exhaustive post.But really do not know how to react when total strangers reading blogs approach one by mail with their personal problems or even with their apprehension of suicidal thoughts.

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    1. KP, good point. When a stranger comes to us with a problem in the very first instance on mail, I suggest first you applaud the person for making an effort to reach out and then point out professional local resources. Then wait for what the future emails tell you. Follow your gut instincts and use your energy wisely. Evaluate from the frequency of emails and content, if indeed you can provide listening. Professional resources are best in such circumstances. This post was for friends who reach out to friends.

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  44. When there is need to just vent steam, act the safety valve – there is no need to teach her to cook or offer to cook for her! The worst you can do is to sit on the pressure cooker and not allow the pressure to vent or to increase the flame! That, is short, is what I try to do to the best of my ability. Sometimes, yes, you too are too full of pressure to act the safety valve to another.

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    1. What an apt analogy! And yes, sometimes we are too full with our own stress and pain to make way for others. In which case, I usually go into hiding 

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  45. Nice post Bhavna,very much in resonance with what i do.I had written a post on the same topic last year”Suicide the Dreaded Word” ;it was from a slightly different perspective. i am glad that you have thrashed this topic so thoroughly,we cannot have enough of it . Well done!

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    1. Induji, so glad you endorse this post. You are a person who perhaps does this often. Doesn’t listening make us better people?

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  46. I do believe the art of listening is so much life the art of love. Wonderful words of wisdom that could certainly make the world a better place. Thank you both…

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    1. What beautiful words—“art of listening is so much life the art of love”—I am with you on that sister!

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  47. “COURAGE IS WHAT IT TAKES TO STAND UP AND SPEAK.

    COURAGE IS ALSO WHAT IT TAKES TO SIT DOWN AND LISTEN!”

    read a friend’s quote in Facebook and it cannot be truer. I always like to think that I am a listener but fail at times. This post was a great remainder of that fact. I was also surprised to read about the “after-listening” part. No one has given that part its due. Thanks for this excellent read, dear Bhavana and thanks my dear Zephyr for hosting Bhavana.

    Joy always,
    Susan

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    1. Dear Susan, yes, it takes courage to listen, a lot of courage. Many of us are disturbed by what we hear and we prefer to avoid such conversations. Thanks for noting the after-listening section. We forget that and then wonder why we are so depressed and gloomy!

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      1. Thanks Bhavana. It was a pleasure reading this post.

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  48. God knows we have too many speakers but very few listeners. As you say, listening has it’s own perils. One needs great compassion to listen and understand where the other person is coming from.

    Very apt and informative post.

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    1. Alka, I agree we need more listeners. And yes, listening is a deep spiritual practice. It needs compassion and compassion is emptying oneself of ourself to make space for the other to come in and dwell for sometime. It is lending our heart. So often we don’t succeed.

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  49. thanks for this post : often people give solutions or techniques to those facing grief and trauma: more often than not just empathy a listening heart and non-judgemental presence is what survivors need to thrive and to live through and work out their way out of their sense of loss /wretchedness.

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    1. Yes, Varsha—sometimes all that is needed is a person to be present, steadily, fully, and surely present.

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  50. Thank you for educating us on the art of listening.. most of us dont and end up less effective. Sometimes we end up making their other listen to our woes instead!

    Hope to keep these tips in mind the next time a friend chooses me to pour out worries.

    Thank you Bhavana and Zephyr.

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    1. I am glad you find it useful. Oh yes, the case of listening becoming a sharing of woes! But sometimes that might help too—when you confide your own pain, sometimes (only sometimes) it becomes a kind of validation for the other person. S/he feels less alone in her pain.

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  51. jaishvats · · Reply

    Thanks Bhavana, That was so very informative,,,And you made me aware of a lot of new things …about listening having its impact on the listener and the sad person being ‘sensitive to nuances in your tone and words.’…Superb

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    1. Glad to be of service, Jaish…yes, folks who are in a dark state tend to be very sensitive folks–they catch nuances very fast..very hard to lie to them.. 🙂

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  52. Thank you for a beautiful post, Bhavana. I am looking forward to referring to this post in my next post at my own blog. Empathy and deep listening are valuable concepts. The ability to share is a gift.

    Thank you, Zephyr. Love and hugs.

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    1. I am so glad you will carry forward this discussion…yes empathy is a very valuable and a much misunderstood concept…

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  53. Bhavana, a beautiful post that has great pointers for all of us. Indeed, in this world when each of us is in a rush to make our point and tom-tom our wisdom, listening takes a huge hit. Like you pointed out, often a person just needs a sympathetic ear. I will bookmark this post for when I need help with listening. I also find myself jumping to offer advice which may be unsolicited. Thank you for sharing all those details with us. I just had one question about that point where you said that offering to do something in the house or taking care of a chore makes a person dependent on you. I look at that a little differently. When we are dealing with death or a loss, it is a huge help when someone comes forward and takes care of the food or the groceries or the kids. It helps us to grieve. I personally feel that it does not make us dependent but gives us more time to dedicate to grieving and in turn healing. I had felt this way when my mother had passed away. Every little gesture of help was truly appreciated by my family.

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    1. You are right, Rachna, but there are people who, in their vulnerability, struggle to grieve and want to use activity to keep their mind off things. When someone steps forward to do things with good intent,they tend to misunderstand and become defensive, saying they can take care of everything. When my uncle passed away, my aunt was naturally devastated, but insisted on doing everything to the point of fatigue. She didn’t want anyone to think she was incapable of doing things. At this vulnerable moment, they find it hard to understand that it is not about their ability to do things, but to free up time to grieve and come to terms with their feelings. What do you think, Bhavana?

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      1. Thank you for sharing that Vidya. So then does it vary from individual to individual, and how do we know what is the best way to help?

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        1. In our case, we all silently participated in whatever she was doing…if she cooked, we cut veg, ground stuff and generally acted like helpers, slowly doing more and more. Perhaps it is the suggestion that someone takes over their routine that is scary for them to accept at that time; so action, rather than discussion worked for us. I remember my Mom sat with her and made a list of things to do, under the pretext of not forgetting anything…and then she quietly allocated duties while making it seem my aunt was supervising the whole thing. Yes, it varies from individual to individual. Many heads are usually better than just one approaching the bereaved – a case for safety in numbers. 🙂

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          1. A very useful tip, Vidya! We will know who wants to be helped or not, if we just listened. Folks always clue us in with their verbal or nonverbal gestures. Some need to be held, some want to be left alone. If we could stand back and just watch we will know what the other one wants…but sometimes a person doesnt what s/he wants. A person may be very angry but inreality doesnt want to be left alone. It is hard to understand in such circumstances. But continous listening tunes us in faster…and of course we make mistakes, we always do….

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    2. Yes, Rachna, in our rush to talk we forget to listen and yet how much can be solved if we listened more! I hear your point about helping out for those in grief. Yes, in that case offering to do chores help immensely. But note this, immediately after a loved one’s passing, one may be in pain but still not be in emotional crisis. Crisis hits a month or so later, one quiet afternoon or a night, when pain rumbles down like an avalanche on the heart. In those moments if one called, what is more important is support to regain that control. Doing chores can sometimes put such a person in a dependancy cycle.

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      1. Great tips both of you! I am learning a lot here.

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  54. That’s a wonderful piece full of information and practical tips! Thanks, Bhavana and Zephyr!

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    1. You are welcome..I hope it is helpful!

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  55. Bhavana what you said is true. God gave us two ears and one tounge so even in normal times they should function accordingly! Even Lord Ganesha has two big ears a sign of wisdom to listen more!

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    1. So well put! Yes, if more of us listened than talk, much of the problems in the world would ease out 🙂 We are alone because there is no one to listen!

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