Practising Listening with Empathy

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Yesterday, Sister True Virtue talked a little bit about the fourth precept concerning speaking and listening. This is a very deep practice. Listening is an art, and many people do not have the capacity for it, especially in the case of listening to the suffering of others. One reason for that is that in the listeners themselves, there is also much pain. The store consciousness is filled with pain and grief, and that is why it is so difficult for such people to listen to others. In order to be able to listen, we need to learn how to transform the suffering in ourselves.

Talking is also an art because if we have many internal formations within us and if we do not know the art of mindful breathing, then while speaking we shall be carried away by our feelings, our anger, and what we say may hurt people deeply. Both speaking and listening must, there­fore, be practised together with mindful breathing and working at transforming the internal forma­tions within us.

During my second dharma talk here, I said that sometimes we can deal directly with our pain by welcoming it into the living room of mindfulness, and sometimes we just let it sleep there quietly in the depths of our consciousness, taking the opportunity to water the seed of happiness within us in order to restore a balance. We have to do both. Psychotherapy believes that if you have pain, you should be able to express it, but because the people around you also have a lot of pain, they are not able to listen to you. Each person is an island. If no one has the capacity to listen to another person, everyone feels very alone. You get sick. No communication is possible. You cannot tell anyone about your pain. That is why psychotherapists have become important in our society. They are supposed to be people who will sit and listen to us. The first task of psychotherapists is to sit quietly and listen; they are not supposed to talk back. If they argue with us, if they talk back, then they are not psychotherapists. We don’t need them and we will not pay them! I need you to sit and listen. I don’t need your advice. I don’t need your condemnation. The psychotherapist should practise listening with empathy. The question here is: Is the psycho­therapist happy or not? If she or he is filled with internal formations, then even if he pretends to sit quietly to listen to you, he will not really be listening and you will not feel relieved. That you can see very well. When someone is truly listening, you feel it; and when someone pretends to listen, you know. Psychotherapists, therefore, are those who have to practise, first. They are supposed to be bodhisattvas helping others, but in order to be able to listen, one should empty oneself; one should be able to transform one’s own internal formations.

She Who Hears the Cries of the World

~Christina Feldman 

The Buddhist path isn’t just about the accumulation of wisdom. It equally requires the development of compassion—an intelligent sympathy for the suffering of all beings and the heartfelt wish to liberate them. In Buddhist iconography, this compassion is embodied in the bodhisattva Kuan Yin, who is said to manifest wherever beings need help. Engendering such compassion is not only good for others, says Christina Feldman, it is also good for us. By putting others first, we loosen the bonds of our self-fixation, and in doing so, inch closer to our own liberation.

Compassion is no stranger to any of us: we know what it feels like to be deeply moved by the pain and suffering of others. All people receive their own measure of sorrow and struggle in this life. Bodies age, health becomes fragile, minds can be beset by confusion and obsession, hearts are  broken. We see many people asked to bear the unbearable—starvation, tragedy, and hardship beyond our imagining. Our loved ones experience illness, pain, and heartache, and we long to ease their burden.

The human story is a story of love, redemption, kindness, and generosity. It is also a story of violence, division, neglect, and cruelty. Faced with all of this, we can soften, reach out, and do all we can to ease suffering. Or we can choose to live with fear and denial—doing all we can to guard our hearts from being touched, afraid of drowning in this ocean of sorrow.

Again and again we are asked to learn one of life’s clearest lessons: that to run from suffering—to harden our hearts, to turn away from pain—is to deny life and to live in fear. So, as difficult as it is to open our hearts toward suffering, doing so is the most direct path to transformation and liberation.

Compassion and wisdom are at the heart of the path of the Buddha. In the early Buddhist stories we find young men and women asking the same questions we ask today: How can we respond to the suffering that is woven into the very fabric of life? How can we discover a heart that is truly liberated from fear, anger, and alienation? Is there a way to discover a depth of wisdom and compassion that can genuinely make a difference in this confused and destructive world?

Het Wonder

Het oerverlangen van de Bron drukt zich uit in mijn wezen, een diep verlangen naar de Essentie om een heel mens te worden en in contact te zijn met Liefde, Wijsheid en Inspiratie.

Als ons hart zich opent, ervaren we het wonder van de schepping. Ik voel het wonder om een mens lief te hebben en ervaar het wonder dat een ander mij kan liefhebben. Het is een wonder dat we daar bewust van kunnen zijn, dat we er over kunnen nadenken. Een wonder dat we kunnen zien en kunnen horen. Een wonder als ik op het strand loop, mijn honden vrolijk zie stoeien in het zand, de wind in mijn gezicht voel en opeens geraakt wordt door de schoonheid van de horizon. Werkelijk wonderbaarlijk !

En ook al zie ik dit wonder vaak niet en ben ik weer gepreoccupeerd met gedachten, gevoelens en wilsimpulsen, verschijnt mijn agenda voor mijn neus en maak ik mij zorgen over allerlei zaken, meer en meer besef ik dat ik participeer aan het wonder van het leven. Als ik stil sta en kijk, dan zwem ik er midden in.

Kabir Helminski schrijft in zijn boek ‘Het Wetende Hart’ hierover het volgende:

Voor veel mensen met een spirituele visie, leven we in een oneindig hart. Dit hele universum is een manifestatie van kosmische liefde. Dit hele universum is geschapen uit een vonk van liefde. We leven in een oceaan van liefde maar omdat die ons zo nabij is moeten we soms een schok krijgen, pijn mee maken of verlies lijden om ons de nabijheid en het belang van de liefde bewust te worden. 

Een visje kreeg eens te horen dat het niet zonder water kon leven en de schrik sloeg hem om het hart. Het zwom naar zijn moeder en vertelde haar, trillend van ellende, over de behoefte aan water. De moeder zei: water, mijn lieveling, is waar we in zwemmen. 

Ik ken mensen die precies door de ervaring heen zijn gegaan door hun contact met de weg van liefde. Iemand drukte dat tegenover mij zo uit: ik dacht altijd dat mededogen iets in mijzelf en andere mensen was, maar ik was er niet van overtuigd dat dit mededogen buiten onszelf bestond. Het werk dat we samen doen heeft me duidelijk gemaakt dat mededogen buiten onszelf bestaat en dat we het daarom ook van binnen vinden, we leven erin !” 

[Het wetende hart. De weg van de soefi: verdieping en transformatie]

~Kees Voorhoeve