This is something I personally struggle with. It is easy for me to stay present when along or with my family or other happy positive friends I have. However, some people we have to interact with are not so happy, nor positive. Or we have a friend going through some difficult times. In my case, I try to comfort them, while they want to tell me about why and how unhappy they are, who has wronged them. In that case my experience in the past was that I just agree with them, with whatever they say, try to give advise and I just sit there shake my head in disbelieve or nod with understanding. I would not try to interrupt, and I would feel obligated to agree even, if I did thing they were wrong. So pretty much listen and keep my mouth shut not to upset them any more.
Well, what should I do now? I try to stay present, but they expect my reaction, a proof of my sympathy and understanding. So here how Thich Nhat Hanh explains this deep listening practice and this goes far beyond ones immediate close circle. How about applying it with someone who we have a difficult relationship with?
Oprah: The case is the same for deep listening, which I’ve heard you refer to.
Nhat Hanh: Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don’t interrupt. You don’t argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing.
Oprah: I love this idea of deep listening, because often when someone comes to you and wants to vent, it’s so tempting to start giving advice. But if you allow the person just to let the feelings out, and then at another time come back with advice or comments, that person would experience a deeper healing. That’s what you’re saying.
Nhat Hanh: Yes. Deep listening helps us to recognize the existence of wrong perceptions in the other person and wrong perceptions in us. The other person has wrong perceptions about himself and about us. And we have wrong perceptions about ourselves and the other person. And that is the foundation for violence and conflict and war. The terrorists, they have the wrong perception. They believe that the other group is trying to destroy them as a religion, as a civilization. So they want to abolish us, to kill us before we can kill them. And the antiterrorist may think very much the same way—that these are terrorists and they are trying to eliminate us, so we have to eliminate them first. Both sides are motivated by fear, by anger, and by wrong perception. But wrong perceptions cannot be removed by guns and bombs. They should be removed by deep listening, compassionate listening, and loving space.
Here is the link to a full article on Oprah.com