Random Musings: Can You Hear Me Now?
Originally, I had a completely different idea of what I was going to write about this week. But after reading the latest always wondrous post by Lucinda over at Whispering earth, I decided to go in a different direction. (As well as a different direction from her post!)
At the end of 2011, I had decided to spend part of my time in 2012 on a particular goal, learning how to become a healer who is an herbalist rather than just an herbalist (who may or may not be a healer.) This goal arose as I looked at the advanced training options at different herbal schools and, as I did, there were several small things that nagged me about them.
The one aspect that’s relevant here is the focus on diagnostic systems – ways to box, label, access clients and their conditions but by itself it seemed to be missing something important – listening and being present. Medical schools have been struggling with this and are working to incorporate such things into their curriculum. It’s one area where the “alternative” healing arts have traditionally been strong that has disappeared in contemporary Western medicine. And it is something I would loathe to see lost as some herbalists try to be oh so more formal and official.
IMO, being heard, truly heard, is a key part of the healing process. And listening well is a key skill for healers of all stripes and anyone in general. Yes, you need your knowledge and connection to plants. As well as your diagnostic tool sets. But there needs to be a space before then where you are present and actively listening. I believe that hearing, not just the symptoms, but the experience the person is going through gives a context for the situation and can lay the groundwork for real healing, rather than just alleviating the symptoms.
But first one of my favorite Zen stories:
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Beautiful on so many levels….
Now there’s a difference between passive listening (say like the veal like passivity people have watching TV where you listen but aren’t so present and engaged) and active listening where you are present and engaged. I tend to think of real listening as being present, letting go of your inner chatter and being open and focused. And for most of us that can be hard work.
Make no mistake. It is a skill that takes work and practice – especially in this culture which is almost antithetical to developing that skill. For me, studying and practicing various Buddhist techniques is invaluable in working on my listening skills and learning to be present. I personally find meditation an amazing aid as well.
Here are some books I’d recommend if anyone has interest in some of this:
- The Wisdom of Listening, edited by Mark Brady – My personal favorite is this wonderful collection of essays. Seriously, belongs in everyone’s library and should be read regularly for inspiring you in dealing with others.
- People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts by Robert Bolton – is more sectarian and how to oriented but still useful. The listening section is good but the conflict resolution section is much weaker.
- The Art of being a Healing Presence by James Miller. Is aimed more at caregivers and hospice workers, but short and invaluable to folks of all stripes. Well worth the time spent reading it.
- Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others by Marco Iacoboni. Is a really nice look at science behind empathy.
In a more Buddhist vein focused on mindfulness:
- Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment–and Your Life by Jon Kabot-Zinn
- You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh
Some may go, but what does this have to do with herbalism? A whole lot if you really want to be a healer rather than just be an herbalist. Which is the question that helped begin my journey this year. 😉
But I think that is enough talking. Time for me to practice what I preach…. 🙂