by Michael McGinnis
One night last year, as I walked home I heard a man shouting and screaming on the street a block ahead of me. He was alone, but very upset and emotional. Probably drunk, I guessed. My first thought was to avoid him — take a detour to get to the safety of my house. But an inner impulse told me to keep walking on my normal route, which would take me right by the man.
He was on the other side of the street, still shouting angrily in the empty parking lot of the territorial administration building. He saw me and started crossing the street towards me. I felt a little uneasy but just kept walking. He took up a spot about three feet behind me and followed me down the street, still talking in an angry and distressed way. It was an effective way of talking to me — and not talking to me — at the same time.
As he talked, I felt I should turn around and face him. I looked him in the eyes and waited. He told me his story — two other guys had beaten him up, and he was angry and hurting. Through all of this, I said very little — just looked at him and listened. He was wearing a hat, and it was just below freezing, but suddenly he asked me for the toque I was wearing. I took off my toque and gave it to him. With that act, I felt my level of acceptance grow again. He removed his hat and put on my toque. I saw a change in him that accelerated when he put on the toque. His emotion drained away and his spirits rose.
Listening to another person can be a great gift. The ability to listen without making judgments is a spiritual gift. Opportunities to give the gift of listening may take us by surprise. Your inner feelings can guide you into recognizing those times when just listening to someone talk is the best thing you can do for them.
The man reacted to my empathy in a very favourable way. His anger and energy subsided, and he became grateful. We shook hands for a long time and he said he would go home to sleep. He left, feeling much better after our three or four minutes together — though I didn't say more than ten words to him. Through our short meeting, I observed myself simply listening to the man and accepting his words without judgment. In the listening there was a bright thread of compassion that flowed between us; this likely helped him to feel calm again.
Most of us help each other in this quiet way — just listening. We have mostly forgotten — but we were born to teach ourselves, and each other, about life by living together in a community. Our community is not just one of people, but also a spiritual community of souls who decided to live on earth, in the same place and time, to share some lessons about life. Where we decide to live, and who we decide to work with are often planned out before we are born. The opportunities to grow are set up beforehand, but what we DO with those opportunities depends on our actions in this lifetime, from moment to moment.
When you are with someone who is speaking about his heartache, you can choose to work as an agent of Divine Spirit by listening. Spirit most often reaches those in distress through the help of other people, since this is often the only way these people can recognize and accept help.
Sometimes working with Divine Spirit means simply listening to someone else. When someone comes to you needing to talk, do you have the awareness just to listen?