Can You Listen to Another’s Heart?

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it working with fears and how they show up in the many parts that make us up (one of my favourite concepts in all of psychology). Fear and the other self-limitations hold us back in far too many ways, on a day-to-day basis. As I keep trying to further hone ways to understand and help others, as well as myself, on this path, more pieces like the following are sure to come out. Let me know what you think.

We may not know everything about others in our lives, but that’s actually a rabbit hole you must watch out for. We may think that we need to understand or experience or connect with as much of that other as we can and then we will be happy, then we will be able to relax because we think we will know them and feel they are finally connected to us. This path, however, besides sounding endlessly tiring, is ultimately counterproductive to the goals to which it strives.

I very much understand the impulse to want to know everything. I have an endless curiosity for the world and the people within it. When I meet someone whom I resonate with, it only, therefore, seems natural to want to dig down into the atomic elements to see all the potential awesomeness within. (Bear in mind, this may also be because I’ve taken one too many physics classes in my life. An Engineering Physics education has its apparent limitations.)

The desire for understanding can also have a dark side. Our fears and anxieties, who’s flames can be fanned by our ruminating mind, will also seek for complete understanding, or as much of that as they can get. The reason for this is that fear is not OK on its own. If it can’t relax into comfort or safety, it is happy to take understanding. Because, by understanding something more fully, our fear believes that it can either, as quickly as possible, get to the good stuff and relax or find out about the bad stuff and employ ways to protect itself or escape.

We also have to consider that there is another human involved in this affair. They are not to be observed or inspected. If they’ve chosen to want to connect with you, it’s a symbiotic contract. It’s a slow, unfolding of you and them and sharing what you find. Learning from what you don’t understand and if done well and with full awareness, you have an opportunity to learn about yourself in the process.

To cave to the impulse for more, all and now ruins that fun and is disrespectful to the other. They may have opened up a door for you to walk in, but most likely won’t want you rearranging all their furniture.

This is entirely overly poetic and metaphorical and I’m sorry, as it is bound to only get worse. (What poetry metaphor can give us, despite its inexact nature and sometimes dramatically increased puke-worthiness is a more effective window into direct experience that straight prose or, God forbid, academic verbiage can never do.) Even though we might not be able to assuage our fears to know everything about another and see who they can be in their entirety, we can know something far more simple and often far more obvious. We can know their heart. (I know, again, I’m sorry.)

There are many ways to think about one’s heart, but I’m definitely not talking about the ones you can hook up diagnostic equipment to. A heart can be thought of as the emotional core that connects right down to the essence of our being. Because emotions are inherently non-rational, they are excellent, if not naïve indicators of what we feel deeply and what matters.

Someone may not be in touch with their heart and these emotions and any gleanings from their core may stay covered and hidden away. That’s a reality that all of us have to one extent or another, but we are also very imperfect. We are partly imperfect in that we have many flaws or at least things we are working on that might not be where we would like them.

But we are also “imperfect” in that we can’t be fully in control of ourselves and be “messed up” consistently all of the time. As much as one might hide their heart and deeper self, for all the best and worst reasons, glimmers of that core are bound to surface, here and there and most definitely in the most unexpected moments. All one has to do is pay attention.

If you are brave enough to choose the path of listening for and to someone’s heart, you will find that even your fears may relax. For even if you can’t know everything about another and even though this is definitely a practice of vulnerability, you’ve actually been given a gift. By giving up the search for the all, you have settled on the One. All of the many things you can know may give you specifics that may prove fascinating or terrifying. But, even though knowing the heart may lack some of the detailed parts of you may desire in this moment, it has the concentrated truth of who that person is. Knowing the heart is knowing who they are.

Life and people need to unfold and reveal themselves as they need to. Forcing things, like grasping for a delicate flower, is bound to cause damage and leave you with far less. Paradoxically, listening more, for less, but far more important parts of that other, will be much richer. And, don’t think that you are in this alone. We can all feel when we are heard and understood. Braving your fears and focusing on the quality that is in front of you very well may allow that other’s heart to open even more, revealing parts of them that you and even possibly they were not aware of.

Your fears may not go quietly though. They are young and don’t understand the wisdom of the heart. They will push for more information so they can mercifully relax. Be patient with them. It is a mindfulness practice to become skilful with letting the fears and sensations arise, seeing them for what they are and then allowing them to settle a bit, for now. By remembering the truths you do have from the other’s heart, of all the goodness, has already been gifted to you. You have all you need.

There are absolutely no guarantees in life and all this may ultimately not live up to what you thought was written on the label. Maybe you didn’t pay attention enough or didn’t know how to listen more deeply to the other? Maybe the other had ill intentions or was not capable of opening their heart? There isn’t a right or wrong here. There are just perspectives and practises. (Go back to engineering if you want fixed decimal points.) There are ways of doing things so difficultly and painfully that can be given up for ways to relax into an easier life that can be richer and more deeply enjoyed. Not just for yourself, but for you & the other, and all of the other others.

Stop making things so hard. Listening to your own heart a bit more may give you a waypoint to look for in the sea of voices within that will impulsively will try to steer you off course. I won’t say any more of this better than Franz Kafka:

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

Franz Kafka

The other’s heart will thank you for it. Just keep being still and listen.

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