Several weeks ago, I realized that I was suffocating in self-isolation.
It's not that I didn't have anyone to interact with. I have my family, co-workers, and a few close friends who I hang out with and talk to on a regular basis. It wasn't that I was feeling lonely. No, I was isolating myself on a deep, emotional level. I'd been keeping my dearest aspirations and my deepest struggles in a little box inside me, padlocked and chained.
Even though I love my family and friends, and get along well with my co-workers, I didn't feel comfortable sharing these things with them. I didn't want to bring down my best friend, a superhero-level busy entrepreneur who always manages to stay upbeat. I didn't want to make my mom and dad worry about me. I felt I couldn't express myself adequately to my husband, because so many of these hardships I keep in this little box have so much to do with our relationship.
But it was all getting to be too much. The emotional contents were growing too big for the little box, and it threatened to burst.
I had kept these feelings boxed and hidden for years. For most of that time, it wasn't difficult to keep them that way, because everything in my life followed the same, static progression. I was standing still. I had interests, but they weren't passions. I had things I'd like to do some time in the nebulous future, but I hadn't solidified them into actionable goals. During all those years of doing the same things, behaving the same ways, reinforcing the same defeatist attitudes about myself and my abilities, I'd reinforced the walls of my box, and stuffed my recurring struggles deeper inside, never to fully acknowledge and certainly never to discuss with anyone else. (Though once in awhile, when I was feeling depressed, I would open up the box and spend some time with the troubles inside, examining them, cursing them, treasuring them.)
But over the past year, I have been (and still am) going through a period of major transition. And in the past couple of months, it has intensified greatly. New job, new vision, re-examined priorities, and a rapidly flowering creative drive. All of a sudden, one day, I woke up with the box sitting heavy on my chest, crushing the breath out of me. I had to let these emotional weights out. It took some working up of courage, but later that day, I went and talked to my mom. It was a huge relief to be able to tell her all of the things that had been bothering me for so long, and she listened and cared and gave me some good suggestions, the best of which was: You should find a therapist to talk to.
I've never been to a therapist, for approximately the same reasons I rarely see medical doctors:
- I see doctors and therapists as products of huge, collusive, frequently dishonest control systems that focus far too often on alleviating symptoms instead of addressing the root of a problem. The very fact that I think this is reason enough for a psychiatrist to diagnose me with some sort of disorder. And if I told them I'm an anarchist? Here, have another diagnosis.
- Therefore, I have a hard time trusting medical doctors, and so I only seek medical care in an emergency. I have never had a psychiatric emergency, so I've never had occasion to use the services of a psychiatrist or psychologist.
- Even if I did want to see a therapist, I've been pretty much perpetually broke most of my life until recently.
- I felt quite okay with keeping my feelings in that box, thank you very much.
But my mom was right. Even if I didn't seek the services of a licensed therapist, I needed to find someone to talk to.
Someone who would truly listen and help me unwind all of these emotional knots. Someone who wouldn't judge me or give me an oversimplified heap of advice for how to "fix" everything. Someone neutral, who wasn't too close to the sources of the problems. Someone who would support and encourage me on this the life-altering path that I'm currently treading.
So I put out a silent call to the universe: SEND ME A LISTENER.
A few days later, I noticed a little blurb at the bottom of one of @erikaharris's Steemit posts. It said something about "Lavish Listening", and I was all like holy shit, this is what I'm looking for!
Erika is an anarchist writer who lives in Mexico. She and I have been Facebook friends for almost a year, and in that time, I have been continually intrigued and inspired by her writings and photography. I've come to refer to her privately as "my freedom muse", because practically everything she writes starts little chain reactions of perspective shifts and epiphanies in my mind that propel me toward a more complete and resilient personal anarchy.
So I knew I had to give Lavish Listening a try. I contacted Erika and we worked out a deal wherein she would gift me one hour of lavish listening, and I would publish an honest review of the experience here on Steemit.
We set up the appointment for a Sunday afternoon. As the day drew closer, I felt a little nervousness. Remember, I'm not much of a sharer of emotional stuff. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I think, mostly, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to express myself adequately, having spent so many years not doing so. But my confidence in Erika's ability to listen lavishly overrode my little anxieties, and when the day came, I was ready.
We used Facebook's voIP feature to conduct our Lavish Listening session. I feel like this worked better for me than a video chat service. I sometimes become distracted on video chat, paying attention to my own facial expressions and that zit on my chin, rather than focusing on what I'm talking about or what the other person is saying. Also, video chat services tend to cut off randomly, and we didn't have any problems like that with the Facebook call service.
Erika opened our session with a simple but powerful invocation, setting the intention that our discussion would catalyze positive creation in my life. Then she asked me if I would prefer to have her give me feedback, or if I just wanted her to listen without responding. I definitely wanted feedback!
After that, I dove right in. I spent the first half of our one hour session talking about the creative and career transitions I'm in the midst of, and how I feel like I'm on the right path, but sometimes it's hard to figure out how all the pieces fit together. Then, in the second half hour, I turned the conversation toward some tough relationship issues that I've been trying to resolve. That was hard to talk about, because it was wrapped up especially tight down in that little padlocked box. It didn't want to come out, but with Erika's patient and non-judgmental witnessing, I was able to coax it out and let my feelings be heard.
Erika is a really good listener.
She listened actively, was genuinely interested in what I had to say, and I think she took notes. She remained intensely focused on me and my expression the entire time, and she never interrupted. Whenever I trailed off or seemed unsure of what I wanted to say, she would ask a perfect question: one that opened up new doors of possibility that I'd never considered, or one that caused a subtle shift in perspective, causing me to see my problems and puzzles in a whole new light.
Occasionally, she might make a suggestion. But it wasn't the type of "Listen to me, here's what you need to do" advice that I'm likely to get when I talk to friends or family members. Instead, it was a suggestion about how to view situation in order to spur the change I was looking for. A couple of times, she repeated back to me what I'd already said, emphasizing words and imagery I'd used, in order to help me see my situation differently through symbols and archetypes. All of her comments served to shine a light of clarity, or to spark an idea for how to deal with or progress with a particular thing.
Since Erika is an anarchist like me, I felt totally uninhibited speaking to her, especially once I got going. It made me realize how often I don't say what I think or feel, just because the person I'm speaking to might be offended or see me as overly strange or un-tethered due to my anarchist philosophy.
In Erika's own words, "Lavish Listening is a response to heart hunger." And it is a powerful response. The empathy and compassion she brought to our session was so refreshing.
It felt like an hour-long heart hug. A massage for the soul.
Like so many people, I've been living unheard and unseen, keeping my worries and dreams and heartaches and visions locked up in a box. Suffocating without understanding and acknowledgement. The chance to be truly listened to, to be seen and heard, to crack open that box and show its contents to someone, freed me to focus more of my energy on creating new works and new paths and futures.
I will definitely be incorporating Lavish Listening into my regular self-care regimen, and I highly recommend Erika's service to anyone who is ready to embark on a journey of self discovery and life enhancement.