Sometimes life feels hard. And sure enough, sometimes circumstances are muddy, mucky and real rough. Especially with our closest relationships, things can be intensely challenging.
Sometimes though, we make our own lives more difficult — usually without realizing we’re doing it. Each of us has much more power to influence our lives than we accept.
The good news is that this is changing.
Every time one of us steps up to sharpen our communication skills, we bring more skillfulness and humility to our relationships. And every time that happens, the world becomes a place that is more loving, safe and kind.
Whenever I discover a simple tool that helps bring about this kind of world, I share it. Reflective Listening is a widely known skill in the world of interpersonal communication, coaching and couples therapy. It is exceptionally simple and I’ve detailed it below so you can practice. All humans would benefit from communication classes starting at a young age, with this exercise being practiced starting around age 10.
If you’re in a committed partnership with someone who’s open to learning new things and wants to see the relationship become more fulfilling over time — someone who’s willing to do their part and not just expect things to improve on their own — you are fortunate. Practice with them. I am extremely thankful my husband is willing to use these tools with me. Reflective Listening has been transformative for our our marriage.
Otherwise, ask a good friend or family member to practice with you. It doesn’t have to be deep or intense -- you can talk about ice cream or travel if you want.
For a short taste of what it’s like, you can take 10 minutes, five each, trading places halfway through. For a fuller experience that might be more rewarding, set aside a whole hour and each take 30 minutes. Or, you can have your turn today as Sharer, or Listener, and switch places tomorrow.
Benefits of Reflective Listening often include:
Ready for some of that sweetness?
Reflective Listening: The Basics
Try it, let me know how it goes for you, send me an email if you want to share what worked and what didn't. Be gentle with yourself. Even a simple exercise can be challenging, especially when it has the potential to bring about so many positive changes.
And if you find yourself all jazzed up about the power of Reflective Listening, share this link with a friend who’s struggling in relationship. Or if you have the spirit of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street running through your veins like I do, and being a good friend is enormously important to you in life, call a friend on the phone today and tell them you want to gift them 20 minutes of your time, as Listener in this exercise. Lead them through it.
It feels really, really good to have someone truly listen.
Of the hundreds of people I’ve met and had conversations with, there are probably 10 who I consider to be masterful listeners. To those people, thank you. I’m not there — yet. I am definitely on my way. To all of us who are heading that direction, kudos, it is good to be in your company!
As published by Findhorn Foundation, 28 Dec 2017
Dear Stevie Wonder,
Last night I sang Overjoyed to my four year old daughter at bedtime. Laying next to me in purple pajamas, her playful, overtired chatter immediately quieted upon hearing the first notes I hummed as my fingers snapped the tune. Surely she felt her mother’s soul explode wide open, rooted, in love with your song and how I feel when I sing it.
This morning, turning away from my inner nagging, an incessant push for productivity, I chose instead to take a walk with earphones on the old cobblestone streets of southern Sweden, playing the song as I walked. Volume turned up high, the brilliance you create with your sound became my world, and I sang, ‘Overjoyed… I’ve been building my castle of love…’ Cold droplets of rain landed on my nose, balancing the heat of your song in my chest.
Boots in rhythm on the old wet streets, I walked. And with the first word I sang in duet with you, it was as if my throat sent tears up to my eyes and all the world’s pressure dropped away.
A man passed me, smoking a cigarette, and the smoke didn’t bother me the way it usually does. My American English singing voice might have stood out to people I passed, and I didn’t care even though “standing out” isn’t exactly celebrated in Sweden.
I sang on. Just for two… though you never knew you were my reason… I mirrored the sound of your silky deep voice, lungs inhaling the fresh scent of rain, and I knew without a doubt that nothing else mattered. A castle of love? I will stand and I will stand out for that.
Something miraculous happens when I sing with you, Stevie. Down from my music-making mouth, something bigger than me peels my throat open and expands my rib cage, from the top down. Is it sound? Is it breath? Is it God? Suddenly the tightness I have felt about life on Earth at this time evaporates inside my open ribs.
Wildfires, melting icebergs, missiles and bombs. Robbery, guns, humanity in despair. While I sing, it all lifts itself up off my shoulders, as if to climb through the castle of love’s windows, then disintegrate.
Even as your voice raises up its volume, and I want to wail, I step off the sidewalk and quiet my voice to make space for a woman approaching with a baby, perhaps asleep, in a stroller. ‘And maybe too if you would believe, you too might be overjoyed… over love… o-o-o-over me.’
Two weeks ago on a city tram, I taught my daughter what it means to be blind. “Some people’s eyes don’t work the way yours do,” I told her. “They read with their hands, or with their hearts.” She touched the braille bumps on the tram’s red stop button, enchanted.
Clearly, you see with your heart. In this world of so much pull to move away from the heart and into fear’s enslavement, you have chosen to share your biggest gift – your enormous capacity to feel love – through sound, through song.
When I sing with you I feel free from everything that doesn’t really fit me. Free to sing from the landscape of the child inside my chest, free to further unfold in expressing my art, less captive inside all the rules of society. These are freedoms available to us all, always… yet often so seemingly out of reach.
Song returns us instantly.
I can’t help it. Sitting now, writing this letter to you, earphones plugged in to play that song again, my hands do the same thing they did as I walked this morning. They lift themselves up, like I’m standing hip to hip with a gospel choir. I barely make them move; it is as if I am totally filled with Spirit. And God knows, I am.
It is to God we sing every love song, isn’t it Stevie? Beneath it all, it is with God whom we fall in love. Singing with you and singing every other song I love indescribably, insecurity whisks away because I am singing a love song to God.
I don’t know what is happening inside my body when I sing with you, like this, but I don’t need to know. It is freedom. It is Home.
Overjoyed, over love, right beside you,
Our featured free recording for September is a 35-minute conversation with mailman Sean Lanham called Mailman Magic and the Power of Letters. You can listen here!
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. (Fred) Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.