How I became a compassionate listener

I never understood it. Every time a family member was in trouble and asked for advice, I would give it only to have it thrown back in my face and followed with an argument… an insult that I didn’t understand.

It was so frustrating.

Why would you ask me for help and then get angry when I offered it?

Not my friends, not my students… just my closest family members. I thought that if people already knew what was good for them, why did they not just do it?

Only when I was called judgemental by my husband one day many years ago… it broke me. All I wanted to do was to be helpful and caring as a wife and offer solutions to a very stressful situation. If he thought I was being judgemental when I was trying to show that I cared… I was doomed.

I cried for a whole night.

We didn’t talk the next day.

It wasn’t just my husband. It was my sister too.


Was it them? It can’t be… it had to be me.

So I followed my usual ritual when I was in doubt and I needed answers. I grabbed my copy of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and opened up to a random page. It was about non-attachment. Sri Swami Satchidananda told a story of a bird and a monkey who lived in the same tree. One day, it started raining. The bird was cosy in her nest and feeling sorry for the monkey suffering tried to offer some help. She said, “Hey monkey, you’re so smart and you have fingers and a larger brain than I do. I’m so small and only have a beak. If I can make this nest to protect me from the rain, surely you can make a shelter for yourself too.”

The monkey looked at the bird in absolute anger and accused the bird of mocking his intelligence. In a rage, he smashed the bird’s nest and both of them sat in the tree getting soaked in the rain.

It’s exactly how I felt. The bird was just trying to help… why should the bird suffer too?

What do I need to learn here? I left it pondering…

As life always has it, your family is placed in your life to help you learn certain lessons. There will always be another situation for you to practice what you have learned… but I didn’t learn anything yet. I was just burned.

So the next time it happened, I was listening to my sister as she was expressing herself over something she was challenged with in her life. I was quiet. I offered nothing. I didn’t even dare to respond.

At the end of the exchange, I remained silent. My sister asked me if I was even listening. I assured her that I heard every word… She didn’t really believe me, so I reiterated back to her what she shared with me.

Then she thanked me for listening and for understanding her.

That was it. That was my missing link. She didn’t want solutions. She wanted an ear.

So then why ask me for advice? I just didn’t get it. But what I did understand is that although I thought that I could fix her problems with a ton of solutions, it wasn’t up to me to do anything. She just needed processing… so does my husband when he’s stressed or angry or exhausted. Just a compassionate ear.

A simple statement like, “It sounds like you are worried about … “ and that’s all it needs.

While it’s a work in progress, it has definitely unlocked my journey in moving forwards to having deeper more meaningful relationships. I need to trust my husband to do what is right for him, even if I don’t always agree with his choices.

I need to resist giving advice to anyone (although in my line of work… it’s really really hard). But compassionate listening comes first.