I am a first generation American. My parents immigrated from England in the early 1950s, included with the wave from the United Kingdom who set sail across the Atlantic due to a stagnate economy and a desire for breathing room.
My father left his stories behind in London. My mother stashed hers in a handbag. Whenever she pulled out a handkerchief, they wafted out and I inhaled them, holding tight to that part of my identity — English.
Stories from home. Stories within. Stories discarded. Secret stories. We all have them. Where do we find safe places to disclose them? To feel heard and listened to? My training as a spiritual director/companion focuses on how to “listen deeply” and be comfortable with silence. I don’t need to fix or solve a problem, but just be present, and hold someone’s story as sacred. I have found there is a hunger for stories to be heard.
If you google “how to listen empathetically” you’ll get a long list of articles with “how to” tips and examples. What seems obvious, such as, “Listen to what someone is saying without scripting your response,” is not obvious in our society where we are geared toward solving problems and moving on.
Empathic listening takes practice. And while there is a long tradition of spiritual direction/companionship throughout the ages, the need for someone to be present to simply listen into another’s story seems to have reached a crisis point in our “talk-over-the-top-of-one-another” society.
What are our stories? The ones left on the cutting room floor of life, when at some point we determined they didn’t matter. Or, more likely, we were told they didn’t matter.
As I have listened to the stories of those who had no voice and as I moved closer to a personal journey to my homeland, these questions went from a whisper to a roar: What happens to our stories if they are never told? Do they float beyond time, waiting for someone to pick them up and speak them? Are they being held by our ailing earth, breaking under the weight?
What is a story you have never told? And what is keeping you from telling it?
This is my invitation: Turn down the clutter in your life. Minimize TV, cable, radio, social media — those noisy distractions that drown out your own thoughts.
Practice listening to others tell their story. It will help you learn to listen for your own voice.
Jot your thoughts down. You don’t need to write a memoir. Just a sentence or spattering of words here and there. Then practice saying these thoughts aloud, to yourself at first. Find a safe person to share small snippets of your story. Not a fixer. You are not broken.
And if you are interested, a spiritual director/companion is trained to hold your story. To find out more go to Spiritual Directors International, sdiworld.org/find-a-spiritual-director/what-is-spiritual-direction.
Be gentle and kind to yourself. If this is new to you, you may be surprised by what you discover.
Your story matters. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.