“So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.”
~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
Ron saw something
When Ron Kurtz was first practicing Hakomi, he had an experience with a client. He had flown to Germany to do a workshop and was jet-lagged and tired, yet during the workshop he was scheduled to see many clients during demonstration sessions.
He was sitting across from one client, having a hard time focusing, when he was suddenly struck by something beautiful about the person he was listening to — maybe it was the light on his face, the shape of his nose, the earnestness with which he spoke. Ron allowed himself to take that in, and he noticed something else.
He noticed that the client shifted a little bit, that the client went a little deeper, that there was a connection between the two that wasn’t there before.
Ron called this phenomenon “loving presence.”
Loving presence is noticing what about another person fills you up, nourishes you, touches you. It is a two-way thing within you… noticing what nourishes you, and noticing that you are nourished.
It is not about complimenting the other person, making up “nice” attributes about them, or forcing yourself to like them. And it’s not about what they say — you are listening to how they are in the world.
Loving presence is about attending to the subtle exchange between ourselves and another, focusing on the positive, and feeling the result of that.
After that session, Ron noticed that he felt more energized not only during the session, but afterward as well. He started doing loving presence deliberately and found that it benefited the client — by helping the session move more deeply and smoothly — and it benefited himself, by helping to short-circuit the problem of therapist “burn-out.”
“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. When we really listen to people there is an alternating current, and this recharges us so that we never get tired of each other. We are constantly being re-created.”
~ Brenda Ueland
“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”
~ Yogi Berra
During our practice therapy sessions, when we sit down with a client, we begin with loving presence, and we also spend some time “tracking”… we take that person in, we notice their facial expressions, hand gestures, how they sit, how they talk, expressions of speech. We’re open. And then we switch to loving presence, noticing what about this person we appreciate or are touched by, taking that in, and then we switch to tracking again.
We also practice making contact statements — e.g., “Some sadness, huh?” — to help the client get in touch with their own experience. We offer these lightly, as an opportunity for them to check with themselves. That is generally how a session starts.
We practice going in and out of loving presence.
And each day of our training, we start by swapping loving presence with a partner. Each person speaks for ten minutes while the other one listens, almost always silently. Sometimes we practice with contact statements. At the end of the ten minutes, we share with the other person what filled us up. And then we switch.
We practice recognizing and acknowledging how we are nourished.
Just like meditation, there is practice on the cushion and in real life.
I was having a hard day yesterday… a weepy, depressive day. I knew in the background that there were a lot of criticizing voices but I couldn’t quite contact them or settle into a more smooth or energetic rhythm. I felt the depression settle around me mid-day the day before (while traveling home), and I knew that it would be good to give myself a day or two of rest.
But, as often happens when I want to rest, a voice comes along that beats myself up about resting. So even resting isn’t that restful. It’s ridiculous really! But while I can hear/see it happening, I cannot always find relief from it, at least not right away.
So, yesterday was one of those days… and when Rom came home we went to the phó restaurant down the street and I was sitting across from Mica and next to Orlando, and Rom and Orlando were playing rock-paper-scissors and Mica had a lego guy and was telling himself some elaborate story of combat and I had a moment of “How can it really be okay that my children are always acting out war?!”
Is it okay? Or isn’t it? Sometimes I think it is and sometimes I think it isn’t, and when the criticizing voices are around, they jump right into the debate and take the side of “It’s YOU who is not okay.”
Why, thank you.
But I didn’t go down that rabbit hole, not then. Instead, without really planning it or making an effort, I realized that I would just sit there, across from Mica, and be in loving presence with him.
I watched him, I looked at his face, I listened to him, felt his words… his excitement, how engaged he was, how pleased and involved, I could see when he was thinking something through. I watched his little brow furrow ever so slightly at times, his mouth widen in a smile, his eyes gaze off into distant possibilities. I watched him show me all the ways his lego guy held his ax and what each way meant. I watched him create a mountain out of a pair of chopsticks. I said once in a while, “Excited, huh?” and “Thinking…” just dropping them in as he moved along.
He was in process, and I was attending to him in his process. And what I noticed about him — it is hard with my children because I mainly feel an overwhelming sense of love that seems to come from everywhere at once — but what I noticed about him that was filling me up was his thoughtfulness, his energy, his creativity, his openness, his willingness to pour forth of himself.
That is a gift. And it was one I was able to receive.
photo by jaroslavd