“Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life.”Rachel Naomi Remen, Professor at the Osher Center of Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Quote from Kitchen Table Wisdom, 1984
At the end of some sessions something in me worries that I didn’t say enough, intervene enough, ask enough, reveal enough, suggest enough. (Which of course reflects the underlying worry in me that I am not enough, yup, I have it too!) Those are the times when I pause, breathe, and ultimately reassure myself that consistent feedback from clients affirms the capacity I have developed to listen and hold that type of space for them.
Being naturally curious, I listened attentively very early on and have honed the skill over the decades since.
I love the title of Nancy Kline’s latest book The Promise That Changes Everything: I Won’t Interrupt You. She’s responsible for a theoretical approach, often used in coaching, called The Thinking Environment. She says “Our thinking depends on the quality of our attention for each other.” And as Rachel Naomi Remen says above, it’s the type of attention that holds silence as sacrosanct, a “place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are.” Ultimately, this is the kind of space that allows healing for those parts of us hurt or wounded early on. There’s a sense of deep holding, affirmation and acceptance in such an energetic space that ideally would have been available in our development and for a variety of reasons, sadly, was not.
I’m not formally trained in The Thinking Environment, and instead am trained in Dr. Eugene Gendlin’s approach called Focusing which, from all I’ve read and heard, shares basic tenets. Focusing allows me to bring my whole self to the work, including my fears, worries and vulnerability, all in service of clearing a respectful space for deep listening as my client explores what they care about. Sometimes I forget the power of this type of embodied presence for, by definition, it’s become transparent to me. In concluding with a couple of clients recently I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to speak their virtues and have mine reflected back as part of our completion process. That capacity to listen deeply, hold a safe space, push firmly yet gently, co-create unique interventions for each circumstance…these make up some of my skillset and I’ve been grateful for the reminder and affirmation.