In the presence of others

We can never know the true experience of life for another. We cannot climb inside their skin, see through their eyes, think their thoughts, or feel their emotions. We can only imagine what their experience would be like for us had we lived it.

At my class the other night, we had an exercise where one person behaved as a client in therapy while the rest of the class worked on being present with that person using our feelings and responding to that person from our hearts.

It was a real eye opener to me to see how I (and others) defaulted to our analytic thinking and responded from our heads, not our hearts.

Responding to someone from a feeling place requires work and practice. It also requires a willingness to develop a way to be in touch with one’s own feelings while listening to another person’s story and, at the same time, get in touch with how the other person is feeling, and know which is which. It requires empathy for what the other person is experiencing. We must have enough life experience and a few mishaps along the way to truly empathize and identify with the pain of another’s experience. The important caveat was to be fully in another’s presence without falling into their pain and dwelling in the misery.

I focus on pain because I don’t know too many people who sign up for psychotherapy when everything in their lives is grand and wonderful . . . much less pay to share that information with me. Truth is the number that I actually know is . . . um . . . zero.

Among all of us, there was a tendency to diagnose and define the pain. We could identify it. We could exchange a sentence or two about how that must be for the client in the chair. Then, we wanted to fix it.

It was a clear lesson in how to get out of our heads and out of our own ways. In the presence of others, there is no fixing to be done. We must acknowledge and accept. We must reflect that we understand. We must respect that their eternal presence was and is fully capable of dealing with life and knows what they need. We must honor the wisdom that brought that person to our presence. We are a presence for others to come and rest their stories. If we let our presences connect and speak with each other, they will find a healing path together.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass


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10 Responses to “In the presence of others”

  1. holessence Says:

    barbara, Barbara, BARBARA — These are the sentences that jumped off the page and into my head/heart – WOW:

    The important caveat was to be fully in another’s presence without falling into their pain and dwelling in the misery.

    Then we wanted to fix it.

    It was a clear lesson in how to get out of our heads and out of our own ways.

    We are a presence for others to come and rest their stories.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Laurie — I am a newbie at this so the best I can do right now is practice on volunteers (like other classmates!). Golly, but my brain likes to churn up solutions and fixes like a hot spring bubbling to the surface. I know I am on my way when I hear the thought “What can I DO for this person?” and we’re off. I have to keep bringing myself back to the present else I am going to miss what that person needs entirely.

  2. ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

    I so thank you for these thoughts and can honestly see this Head/Heart connection in both you and Laurie…..

    When you finish I can be a guinea pig!!!!

    Thank You

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Sure, Kim, and I won’t even charge you for it! 😀

      My head likes to lead the way nearly all the time in my life and for the most part, my heart follows close behind. Sometimes, my head knows exactly what I need, but my heart likes to remain in denial. Other times, my heart is openly pointing the right way for me while my head tells me stories. Getting these two on the same page has been a 50-year negotiation.

  3. ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

    I have a big heart and it has a lot ,of of major stuff to offer, however unconcsios thoughts inhibit my ability to let go and be me…..I stand gaurded, cautious, and unyielding at best…..worst? I will leave that for another discussion!!!!

  4. Gil Says:

    I am also training to be a therapist at the moment. This week I had an epiphany! I cant fix anyone, I can only help them to help themselves. I cant DO anything for them, but there is something I can BE. A listener…

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Everyone needs someone to listen to them, Gil . . . you are so right about that. True listening is an art. I think someone has truly listened to me when they reflect back to me what I am feeling instead of something about themselves. When we finish school and get your license and I get mine, we will open up an international office. 🙂

  5. sandiwhite Says:

    I’ve just had a long phone conversation with my brother David. His Father-in-law, a man I’ve known for many years, is being moved into Hospice care in the hospital where he has been in treatment for several weeks. This has had a traumatic effect on the family, realizing that to go forward now means not a return to health and wholeness but to make his transition a period of peace and tranquility. This would be the time to look back on a life well and fully lived, of providing materiel and spiritual foundations for his family and community, and not the desperate holding back of a soul ready to move on. I am not speaking of resignation to the facts but more of accepting the inevitable and letting the process of letting go be one of saying Bon Voyage to the Traveler and knowing there will be reunion in another time and place. David and I have experienced this letting go before, we are the only two left in a family that once encompassed six, we cannot “fix” the situation, but we can listen, and acknowledge the pain and fear they are dealing with. Yes, it is hard, very hard, but we were taught how to do this in the time-honored way, by those who sat with us in our time of pain and fear, listened and held our hands. Thanks, Barbara for a always heart opening topic.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Sandi — I hear what you are saying. You have such wisdom about the practical matter of death (it happens). Our society has taught us to fear death more than we need to. By instinct, we fear and avoid death, but at some point we need to take the transition in hand and own it for all it is worth. It is OUR transition into the great beyond! Those are the most precious listening times and I think the best gift we can give those we leave behind is a whole bunch of wonderful stories for others to listen to.

  6. B is for BEing « Speaking from the Heart Says:

    […] Gil gave a great example of BEing on Barbara’s blog, “In the Presence of Others.” She […]

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