Practicing Presence and Compassion through the Act of Listening

I had a conversation with my mom the other night about her memory of my grandma helping when she was pregnant with my sister. She cried as she reminisced about the past and tearfully acknowledged (and appreciated) all that her mother did for her. My heart ached at the sight of her tears but at the same time, it was so beautiful to watch her be human. To witness her in a state of gratitude was truly humbling.

I guess there was more that she needed to get out of her system because she called me the next day telling me she realized that she wasn’t feeling bad about grandma, but that she felt bad for herself. I was floored. For her to come to this conclusion meant that she had reached a certain level of awareness which for some reason, surprised me. At the same time, I was so proud of her for being able to recognize the root of her sadness and for being vulnerable enough to share it with me.

Although the conversation that followed after was difficult for me to digest, I did my best to put my discomfort aside and lend my ear to her. You see, any time the topic of cancer comes up, I get stiff with anxiety because I have no fucking idea what it’s like, especially to have an illness that’s so debilitating and life threatening. So when she started saying how she regrets getting a double mastectomy, chemo and radiation, a part of me shut down because it triggered feelings of guilt. A part of me wished I could do more for her at that time and I felt helpless. To top it off, I didn’t have any useful advice to give her either because, well, I felt I wasn’t “qualified” to do so. So, I felt both helpless and useless.

What kind of advise and solace could I possibly provide her when I have never been in her shoes? So I just listened to her vent and when I hung up, I realized that she just needed to talk to me about it. That all she needed was for someone to listen and hear her. She wanted to share what she had learned from the experience and to give me advice in case I ever had to go through something similar (God forbid). After hanging up, I felt the the pain marinate in my limbs, traveling to my heart. I took a deep breath and reminded myself NOT to resist what I was feeling. It was hard. Who the hell wants too or likes to  feel the discomfort that pain bestows on them? I certainly didn’t and had a habit of running away from it rather than surrendering to it. But over the years, I learned that when I breathed through the discomfort and surrendered to whatever feeling was holding me “hostage”, that it became easier to deal with it.

Thus, when I surrender to the “enemy”, it begins to lose its influence over me. It’s as if the act of surrender strips it of its powers, slowly lessening its grip.

After the discomfort had passed, I started to realize the gift that I was presented with when I didn’t run from it. When I sat with it (the pain), I not only gave it the freedom to exist but it was a way for me to deal with it, rather than avoid it. And by giving it freedom, it left on its own. And much faster than it would have if I ignored it, stuffed it down, and made it a prisoner in my body.  When it passed, I was filled with a sense of appreciation because I had learned a valuable lesson in that moment. It had taught me about presence and compassion through the act of listening. That sometimes, all someone needs is to be heard. To be able to vent freely without judgment or solutions.

2 thoughts on “Practicing Presence and Compassion through the Act of Listening

  1. So much insight in one post!
    Helplessness and uncertainty are the emotions that every terminally sick person has. It’s ok to feel it because it shows you feel what they feel. There is nothing we can do but listen. Listening is our compassion. We are not meant to give advice here. Or every honestly. People like giving advice but they don’t like getting it lol. We like being heard. It’s all we can do to support. So yes you were so right all you can do is surrender. This is such a true and heartfelt – beautiful post! It’s something that not everyone can understand. Thanks for sharing your depths.


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