In this excerpt from an interview in 2012 by Oprah Winfrey on her show SuperSoul Sunday, she talks to Thich Nhat Hanh, famous monk and author of over 100 books on spiritualism, meditation, and mindfulness. He spoke about the concept of deep listening or compassionate listening.
Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of the other person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose to help him or her to empty his heart. And if you remember that you are helping him or her to suffer less, even if he says things full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable to continue to listen with compassion, because you know listening that like that, with compassion, you give him or her a chance to suffer less.
If you want to help him or her to correct his perception, and then you wait for another time, but for the time being, you just listen with compassion and help him or her to suffer less. And just one hour like that can bring transformation and healing.
His words caught my heart. I suffer from the chronic human need to fix things. Fix problems, fix people, fix writing. I’m not alone. I know you feel the same.
It is hard to sit still and just be with someone, listen to them, hear their pain, and not fix it.
Recently, one of the writers in our group finally heard what we’d been saying for a while regarding their writing, and the dam broke. The writing became clearer, more emotional, and passionate. I realized that the writer wasn’t ready to hear our words until the time was right, and now was the moment.
I’m the same way. I can hear the same words over and over again, sometimes for many years, but I don’t hear them, take them into my heart, and act upon them until I’m good and ready to listen.
Part of the magic of our group is that we have some enlightened beings setting that example for all of us. We’ve learned to trust that the person will figure it out on their own, in their own time, and all we can do is listen, be there, and guide them, but they have to figure it out for themselves. They can take our advice or toss it, it is their work, their creativity, their process.
The Four Mantras to Healing Relationships (and Critiquing Writing)
In the next part of the interview, Thich Nhat Hanh cited his four mantras for relationships, and I felt like he was talking to our writing group.
We have two guides we follow strictly in our group. First, everything we write is fiction, which creates a safe environment for people to share and not gossip about what we write. Second, we create a supportive environment for intense support and gentle criticism.
With few words, he defined the latter in a beautiful way.
The first mantra is: ‘Darling, I’m here for you.’ When you love someone, the best thing you can offer him or her is your presence. How can you love if you are not there.
…The second mantra is: ‘Darling, I know you are there, and I am so happy because you are truly there.’ You recognize the presence of your beloved one as something very precious, and you use your mindfulness to recognize that…she will bloom like a flower. To be loved is to be recognized as existing.
…The third mantra is what you practice when your beloved one suffers: ‘Darling, I know you suffer. That is why I am here for you.’ Before you do something to help her, to help him, your presence already can bring some relief.
…The fourth mantra is a little bit more difficult, and that is when you suffer, and you believe your suffering has been caused by your beloved one. So, you suffer so deeply. You prefer to go to your room and close the door and suffer alone. You get hurt, and you want to punish him or her for having made you suffer. The mantra is to overcome that.
The mantra is: ‘Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me.’ You go to him, you go to her, and practice that.
And if you bring yourself to say that mantra, you suffer less right away.
When we offer criticism, we need to keep mindfulness at the forefront of your intentions. Writing is a deeply personal experience for many people. Sometimes what they write is a little of their spirit leaking onto the page, other times their hearts are fully exposed, vulnerable.
During our writing workshops, you are invited to read the results of our writing prompts out loud to the group, and bring short samples of our work to share, for some gentle criticism and advice. By listening with the spirit of deep and compassionate listening, being there in the moment for each other, and being glad to be in their presence, we go a long way to help each other get past our fears, anxieties, and road blocks to our creative writing spirits.
How do the last two mantras impact us as a group and our writing?
I could tell you that writing can be painful, to mind, body, and spirit. But I don’t have to. You know that. You’ve been there.
The inner demons show up and taunt us, old tapes running through our mind, picking at the scars, seeking blood. “Not good enough.” “You can’t do it.” “What made you think you had anything worthwhile to say.” We all face these demons, we all suffer, so let’s acknowledge the suffering. We know we suffer. That’s why we are here for you.
When we are suffering with our writing, letting the demons win, we need to practice, too. We need to come out of our rooms and stand before each other, our wonderful, supportive writing friends, and admit that we are suffering. Admit that we need to practice. And ask for help. That is what why we are here.
That is the true essence of this group.
And the sooner you do that, the less you will suffer.
For more information and to purchase his books, see the Amazon.com Author page for Thich Nhat Hanh.
The following is the excerpt regarding the mantras.