the living mosaic

Several days ago, I was talking with someone in my family who was in real distress over a situation in his life. The more he talked, the more I felt the discomfort growing inside, but instead of offering an open, nonjudgmental, presence, I gave him “advice” on how he could take better care of himself, stay centered, use this as an opportunity to grow…blah, blah, blah. 

Not that all of those suggestions aren’t good, in and of themselves, because they are. They are exactly what we “should” do when faced with overwhelming fear, worry, or concern. But that wasn’t what he was asking from me. In that moment, he needed a compassionate ear, and I offered him, not quite platitudes, but something close to that. I knew it as soon as the words left my mouth…there was a uncomfortable energy that descended and lodged itself between us, and I didn’t have the presence of mind, or the humility, to admit what I’d done, so the conversation ended. 

It took me a couple of days to see my part in the rupture. My ego was desperately grasping for justification for my suggestions, and yet, I couldn’t get comfortable inside. I finally asked for clarity, and the willingness to see my part, and I had a dream that night in which I was in real distress, looking for my phone, wanting to call my son, and another family member said to me, in a very haughty way, “We don’t want to be caught up in your drama!” I woke up shortly after and knew I’d gotten my answer. 

Even though I hadn’t said those words, that had been the energetic tone of my response a few days earlier, so I asked myself, “Were you feeling compassion when he told you what was happening in his life?” and the answer was a clear no. I hadn’t even tried to put myself in his shoes, and it felt like a missed opportunity on my part. A few hours later, I called him and apologized. The tension between us melted. 

There is an appropriate time to offer suggestions; when they are asked for. I also need to be honest enough to admit when I can’t listen with an open mind/heart….and that is OK too. I’m a human being as well, and need to be aware of my limitations, but I can always be kind…and I’m not always kind. I hope to become more so in this very challenging time and to not miss opportunities to grow along side and together with those precious people who are in my life❤️

“Listening is not merely a sympathetic nodding or a friendly repetition of hmm, hmm, hmm. Listening is a very active awareness of the coming together of two lives…It is precisely with my own articulate awareness of the piece of the living mosaic that I represent that I can be surprised, sadly or gladly, and can respond from the center of my own life.” Henri Nouwen

5 thoughts on “the living mosaic”

  1. My son will tell me, “Mom, I’m looking for support, not advice.” Sometimes I do need it spelled out for me!
    You raised a good and sensitive point: we aren’t always as kind as we like to think we are. That has been brought home to me twice lately: one instance that I am still hoping to correct, and another that was a fleeting opportunity when I reacted out of fear and a bit of annoyance rather than compassion. It was a bit of a slap to realize that I had been less than I wanted to be. It’s far easier to be kind in a situation where I feel in control, and harder for me when I’m not. This is something I need to work on, somehow being both gentle and firm with myself! Thanks so much, Mary.

  2. Dear Mary, it’s so easy to get caught up in our own drama, our own ego’s need to feel important and our own desire to “help”. I too, being a loving, kind and helpful person find it challenging to just sit back and let the universe guide me to make the choices that are best for everyone concerned. And sometimes, it’s okay to let the ego take charge…..and sometimes it’s not! Sometimes, as you describe in your post today, the best thing to do is to just open our heart and soul and allow ourselves to be guided by a higher power. Thanks for the reminder!

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