Walking on Fresh Grass
Our cat went missing last week.
He didn’t like the new place he was staying so he went walkabout. I was very upset and spent hours drawing pictures of him and writing “Missing B & W Cat” on signs which I hung all over our old neighbourhood. He’s at least 15 years old and very fat, so I didn’t think he would have gone very far.
I missed him.
Our cat is the best listener I know. I often practice my lectures in front of him.
At times he is so concentrated on what I am doing that he will stop licking his paw and keep it suspended in the air while he stares at me. Our son timed him doing this once: 65 seconds.
At other times he will listen for a while and then curl up in a ball and go to sleep purring, very contented.
I learn a lot about listening from our cat. He is never judgmental or critical.
I wish I could be more like that.
To truly listen, deeply, actively listen to another person, we need to suspend our own judgments and beliefs.
Listening means shelving your beliefs and judgments. I don’t know what my cat believed in, but I never felt judged by him (except when I went to pat the dog).
In listening, you offer the opportunity for the talker to express any opinion, even if it differs from your own. You want them to feel free to do this, or else they will alter what they say, or stop speaking altogether. They don’t want to feel judged or have you disagree with them.
The first step is to let go of judgment comments. My cat did this very well.
Shelving beliefs and judgments is really hard: especially when you feel strongly about them. When Christian is talking about something I disagree with I often have an internal monologue going on:
“Well, that isn’t right”
“Huh! That’s what he thinks”
When I catch myself doing this I try and visualize putting my beliefs in a box, closing it and putting it on a shelf in my mind. Only then can I give him my full concentration. Like my cat’s paw, I need to learn to keep my thoughts suspended and temporarily forget or even care about them.
Shelving your beliefs is different than changing your beliefs. Shelving creates room in your mind and heart to listen deeply with your whole being.
Learning to shelve beliefs and opinions when listening is challenging and takes practice. You may fail often. I do. But because it involves sacrifice, it opens a new space in your relationship for love to thrive.
Someone sent me a text yesterday with a picture of a ragged cat sitting on their back deck.
“Is this your cat?”
He had walked several miles, crossing very busy roads to return to our old home. He hadn’t eaten in four days and was exhausted, and limp, and scared. When we went to get him he ran away at first, but when he heard the sound of my voice he paused. Our very scared cat knew my voice well. He had spent many hours listening to it. This time he also listened to the love underneath.
We bundled him up and took him to a place where he was secure, safe, well-fed and at home.
Welcome to our blog. Each blog contains a little story of our journey and an insight drawn from Christian's 18 years of clinical experience as a psychiatrist. The central ideas are in bold. We post every fortnight and would love to hear your comments. Looking forward to travelling with you in this amazing journey called life.