Have you ever tried to help someone with something, like improving their eating habits, only to find it doesn’t help a bit? In fact, have you noticed the more you nudge, prod, recommend, remind, and support, the more likely they are to get irritated with you? Have you noticed that despite your best efforts to be helpful, they almost stubbornly refuse to do the very thing they know is good for them?
When we believe our support can make a difference for someone we love, but aren’t having much success, a shift in focus can make a difference.
Lao Tzu, in The Tao Te Ching, writes
When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exits.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.
If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy.
The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done, the people say,
“Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves!”
In other words, support is experienced as we attend to our own practices in living well, and as we extend to those we love, a patient, knowing, confidence, that they will find their way, in their time. It is not our overt guidance, but our grounded presence and confidence that can make the difference. This kind of support encourages listening on the inside, to that quiet voice, that knowing of what fits and what doesn’t, what feels healthy and what doesn’t. It’s not that our someone special doesn’t know what to do… at least some of what to do, right? But they must come to it for themselves.
As we listen with compassion to their complaints of symptoms, turn worry for expressions of confidence in them, and pay attention to our own healthy habits, they begin to sort through their own choices and find what works. It’s a process.
If you’re not sure this way of communicating is powerful enough for your situation, you may be right, but I’d like to invite you to try it out, here and now between you and me. I want to give you a chance to be on the receiving end of the support, so you can experience it firsthand. This is just practice, but it will give you the flavor of this more subtle approach. You’ll start by imagining yourself sharing your concern with me. You might want to write it down as if you’re writing a note or letter. Then I’ll ask you to read my response below, where I’ll recognize your concern, and express confidence that you are finding your way.
1. Take a moment to imagine and write your concern.
2. Now read/listen to my response:
I know you’re concerned about someone you love. In this, I know you love, and are giving from your heart… your care, time and devotion. How lucky this person is to have and be loved by you. Just by being present to listen and love, you are already a blessing. Even if you don’t see this now, you will see it one day.
If there’s more you’d like to share, I’m here, listening.
3. Take a moment to notice if there’s anything more you want to say, even if it’s to repeat what you’ve already said, that’s okay. Write it down now. Then read/listen to my response again.
4. Repeat this process until you feel you’ve shared your concern completely, and then read/listen to my response again.
5. Take a moment.
6. Do you feel a shift toward calm? If you do, then take a step further and briefly describe what you’re experiencing… maybe in a word, a phrase, a color, a song, an image, or in your breathing pattern. Let something come to mind that expresses what you are experiencing now. This can help you stay with the calm.
Every situation is different in details, and yet the overriding principle of caring for another is based in the simplicity of our loving presence: To listen with care, to love with faith, and to pay attention to the things we can do each day that make our lives a blessing.
May you and those you love, be blessed with good health, and may your lives be a blessing.