How difficult it can be to be fully present for another person. In the Gospel story of the events following the Last Supper, while Jesus is experiencing the pain of his unfolding betrayal, he asks the apostles to stay awake with him and pray, but they all fall asleep. He asks them several times to be awake with him, but each time they fall asleep.
It is a touching and telling story of the frailty of these saints, future church fathers, evangelists. Even they had trouble being awake in the presence of another's pain. It is not unnatural to withdraw our attention when someone is hurting. It is unhelpful, however.
One of the characteristics of an effective counselor is that they stay present in the counseling session. If the therapist's mind is somewhere else, they are not much help to the client. Similarly, when marriages fail, it is often the case that one or both of the partners has a pattern of withdrawing attention. How often has the marriage counselor heard, "He doesn't listen to me"?
The emotions of aversion keep us from making contact with people in their need. We may fear that their pain will become our pain. We may fear they will get too close. If they get too close they may see the dark truth about us. They may see our weakness and inadequacy. Instead of getting close, we may become nervous, distracted, bored. We may remember some other pressing commitment that we just have to take care of right now.
Being mentally and emotionally present with another person is one of the best gifts we can give. It is calming and healing. It creates connection and intimacy. It opens emotional doors.
Some rare people are able to be fully present with others quite naturally. Most of us have to develop that capacity. Some of the qualities we need are self awareness, self acceptance, and compassion. The ability to understand and move beyond our aversions comes from self awareness. Compassion grows out of self acceptance. The intention to listen -- to be present, grows out of compassion.
These are qualities we can grow in ourselves. Through practice of meditation and mindfulness we can become more self aware. Through self awareness and consciously being kind to ourselves we can become more self accepting. As we work through our distaste for the darkness in our own hearts we become more able to open our hearts to others. When we open our hearts to others we can be with them in their pain and in their joy.
- Ask yourself:
- What is my fear of closeness?
- If someone gets in close to me what might they find?
- What would they see in my heart if they could look there?
- How do I keep people at a distance?
- Do I get anxious? Bored? Distracted? Sleepy?
- Tell yourself:
- I am worth sharing.
- I want people in my life.
- I have gifts to give.
- My full presence is my gift to the one I'm with.
- Grant that I may live a life of love.
- Make me an instrument of kindness.
- Open my heart of compassion.
- The intention of being mindful.
- The intention of being open.
- The intention of listening carefully.
- Just being there with yourself.
- Just being there with another.
© 2002 Tom Barrett