EMPATHIC SILENCE

Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

In the novel Momo, Michael Ende creates the character of a young girl, who is a wonderful example of an empathic listener, and whose silent presence helps people connect with their inner truth. Momo receives a daily stream of visitors, eager to be close to her.

“Was Momo so incredibly bright that she always gave good advice, or found the right words to console people in need of consolation…? No, she was no more capable of that than anyone else of her age…what Momo was better at than anyone else was listening. She listened in a way that made slow-witted people have flashes of inspiration. It wasn’t that she actually said anything or asked questions that put such ideas into their heads. She simply sat there and listened with the utmost attention…fixing them with her big, dark eyes, and they suddenly became aware of ideas whose existence they had never suspected. Momo could listen in such a way that worried and indecisive people knew their own minds from one moment to the next, or shy people felt suddenly confident and at ease, or downhearted people felt happy and hopeful. And if someone felt that his life had been an utter failure, and that he himself was only one among millions of wholly unimportant people who could be replaced as easily as broken windowpanes, he would go and pour out his heart to Momo. And, even as he spoke, he would come to realize… he was absolutely wrong: that there was only one person like himself in the whole world, and that, consequently, he mattered to the world in his own particular way. Such was Momo’s talent for listening… Those who still think that listening isn’t an art should see if they can do it half as well.”

Silence itself is a potent listening tool, and can convey a grasp of another person’s emotions. While silence should not be used to avoid intimate and meaningful conversation, neither is it helpful to avoid silence due to feelings of discomfort. Often we fill silence with empty talk, fearing the vulnerability of silent connection. An attentive, caring silence is sometimes a more powerful way to heal and connect than the most carefully chosen and well-intentioned words. Actual silence means that the mind is also still. Silence doesn’t mean “empty.” It is a gateway to, and manifestation of, spiritual presence. Vedic scholar Bhaktivedanta Swami wrote, “Silence means that one is always thinking of self-realization.” It is said that God has given us two ears and one mouth, because we are meant to listen at least twice as much as to speak. The Bhagavad Gita describes true silence as a reflection of the divine within us. In empathic silence we are listening to what the other person is saying, not to what we are saying about what the other person is saying. That is, we are attuned to the person’s words and the emotion and intention behind the words, not to our judgments, planned responses or comments towards the other person’s self-expression. We are deeply listening, receiving another person with full presence, intense interest and an open heart. Such listening expands the spirits of both speaker and listener.

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