In January I published a piece on how to make someone else’s life easier. In it I touched on the great skill of listening. To really listen means to be present for a person. But saying ‘be present’ doesn’t actually explain what that means or how to go about it.
This is a follow-up to that piece, with instructions on how to be there for someone, genuinely, in three easy steps.
Think back to some painful point in your life, something that caused you heartbreak or grief, that felt insurmountable, no matter how often people spouted terrible cliches like ‘Everything happens for a reason’ or ‘Time heals all wounds.’
Now think, was there anyone in those times who simply listened? Who sat with you and let you feel how you felt without conveying any sense of needing to ‘fix’ you or the situation? Anyone who was just there, to hold your hand or give you a hug, or not touch you at all but let you get whatever was in your head out? Or perhaps you didn’t want to talk and they were the one person who didn’t expect you to. They were someone who you knew had no expectations of how you should behave or what you should say, and you could sit with them in comfortable silence.
Whether you’ve met this sort of person or not, wouldn’t it be amazing to be them?
Well here’s how.
Step one: Check your intention.
What’s your motivation behind being there for someone? Is it because you want to be their saviour? To ‘fix’ them by saying just the right thing? To swoop in and ‘save the day’ with words of wisdom? Or is it to give this person the space, the platform they need, so they feel heard and seen? If we want to truly be there for someone our intention has to be just that.
Our intention must not to be to put how we think or feel on that person. Our intention must be to give them space for how they feel, for what’s going on in their life, for their experience and how they are in that moment, regardless of our expectations, wishes or desires.
Step two: Let go of your ego, or at least tell it to be quiet for a bit.
We might not understand exactly where a person is coming from. We might think they’re a mess or they’re a lost cause or that their pain is too much for us. We might be confused by how they react to a situation, because it’s not how we would react. That’s fine. We’re allowed to think and feel whatever we want.
This isn’t about being right, getting praise or having answers. When we want to truly be there for someone, when that is our intention, it means we also have to put any sense of ‘me’ to one side. Being there for someone is not about you.
Step three: Be present.
This is easier said than done. Your mind is going to wander. You are going to have all sorts of thoughts coming up, which is normal. You may think their pain is too overwhelming. You may think they got themselves into the mess they’re in. You may think what they are going through isn’t actually that big of a deal or you may think it’s too big for you to handle. That’s fine.
Thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky. In meditation we are taught to label them ‘thinking’ and let them go. But I have a specific trick for how to work with these thoughts when my intention is to be there for someone. Whenever a thought arises I tell myself: ‘Be present’.
You are holding space. Part of that involves creating space. We create space by being in the moment. The present moment is infinite and vast. Train in being there and you can be there for anyone, including yourself.
Being there for someone isn’t easy. Our intentions become clouded, our ego is loud and boisterous and we are hardly ever present. But being there for someone is one of the most powerful, kind, and generous things we can do.
When not writing, making art or recording podcasts,
Kaitlyn can be found in trees, listening to Dharma talks on her iPod, Boon.
Thusly named because
Brian Froud = Awesome.