Active Listening


A more active role in listening can often be helpful as well as passive , since, as listeners, we are not caught up in the distresses and patterns of the subject we are listening to. We are then able to provide a more accurate picture of the reality of the situation and of our subjects’ goodness, lovability, intelligence, helpfulness and worth, and encourage the discharge of feelings, the identification of patterns, and decisions the subject may make to act in contradiction to those patterns. In the beginning it is fine to stay with passive listening while you are still thinking of the situations and thoughts and feelings being expressed and offering encouragement and appreciation at the end of the session. After a while you will want to be a bit more active and offer insights and views that may give more support and confidence to the subject. One usually helpful direction for a Listener to offer is for the subject to seek childhood memories, especially any that may seem to relate to present time feelings and situations, because most of our deepest feelings began there. You may encourage a stronger discharge of emotions; encourage them to be felt not just talked about. You may encourage discharge by asking the subject to assume a different posture, use a stronger more confident voice, communicate with greater intensity.

Since every one of us is different and our histories unique, there is no way to teach a response for every session. This is where our experience, intelligence, creativity and compassion come into play as our instruments of help in all situations. As you practice you will develop ways in each relationship to understand and support the subject better. That is why it is good to have regular sessions with at least one person who gets to know you and your history and whom you get to know very well. Going to workshops and camps and being in circles where there are often demonstrations of Supportive Listening sessions is an excellent way to add to your understanding and your arsenal of tools to help your subjects. But please do not think you cannot be an effective Supportive Listener when you observe how other more experienced who seem more skilled. Believe me, the most important quality you can have is your compassion and understanding, and when your Subject feels that in you that is the greatest gift you can give.


This basic human nature is sometimes obscured, occluded or confused by hurts we have received and for which we have feelings not fully discharged or understood. No one is to blame for those feelings, not yet fully discharged, or for the patterns of behavior they elicit, but that the more we are able to feel and discharge those feelings the more we loosen their hold on our consciousness. We can decide they are old news that need not affect us today and we can let go of them. This can then happen as we make new choices and act on them. Try to contradict any feelings of discouragement as your Subject recognizes and confronts patterns. Make light of the patterns, let your Subject know that you are on it with her, and with you on her side those patterns haven’t a chance.

When we are hurt or frustrated or in need as an infant we discharge our distress spontaneously and immediately. What we require then is someone to hear and understand and to offer help and solace. When our cries for understanding and help go unheeded, we may give up on ever being heard or helped, decide we have to take care of ourselves and defend ourselves from further vulnerability and disappointment. We develop different strategies for this, depending on our personalities, and although what we devise my not be very effective, if it receives some response we try again. Repeated it becomes our automatic or default response to distress and loss, hurts and frustrations. Since we do not discharge, the feelings are submerged and may surface unexpectedly at times when re-stimulated. To weaken and let go of old patterns we may discover the early incidents when the distress was not discharged, and as fully as possible discharge them now. This is easiest with a Supportive Listener, leading us to declare that

It is never too late to have a happy childhood.


Text from Medicine Story’s A GUIDE to the circle way


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