“Sometimes in tragedy we find our life’s purpose. The eye sheds a tear to find its focus.” Robert Brault
On a very cold and windy March 2013 morning in Chicago, I was indoors in a warm seat with a room full of people, listening to a speaker at a technology conference. Suddenly, something the speaker said really caught my attention and I sat up straight. The term she used profoundly touched my heart and I had a tingle in my body. She called it “Passionate Listening”. I thought to myself, wow! What a powerful prefix to the word listening!!! It was coined by the famous psychologist, author and speaker, Harriet Lerner and it goes like this –
“If we would only listen with the same passion that we feel about wanting to be heard.” Harriet Lerner
Something really shifted in me that moment. Later that night, lying in my hotel bed not bothered by the loud sirens outside, I was still thinking about “Passionate Listening”. The quote played over and over in my thoughts. I kept wondering why this quote had a deep impact on me. It suddenly hit me that it has everything to do with my very long and painful infertility journey! I started crying uncontrollably.
It just invoked a painful part of my life. I remembered all my failures – the three miscarriages, three failed Intra Uterine Insemination treatments and eight back to back failed In Vitro Fertilization treatments including donor eggs. All my four fertility doctors couldn’t find any obvious issues with us and it was termed “Unexplained Infertility”.
I realized how lonely it was as I didn’t have any one who could passionately listen to me, no one to talk to in a way they would “get” me. The handful who knew a bit about my treatments, avoided talking about the process or being sympathetic about the emotional and physical pain I was experiencing. I hated my life. I lived in a shell.
Attending social gatherings became a place that I wore a mask and pretended that life was going and I was doing well. What a fake I was!!! I couldn’t even talk to my husband. I didn’t know what to ask of him! He didn’t know how to support me. Until that day in Chicago, infertility owned me for eight long years…
Wiping my tears, I sat up on the bed. For the first time in eight years, I understood I am a victim to infertility. I didn’t like it. I wanted to take control of my life! I wanted to be the owner, not the victim.
I thought, If I want to be listened to passionately, Why can’t I start being a passionate listener? It totally made sense. Suddenly, I did not feel like a victim anymore. In fact, that was the day, I made peace with my infertility and truly moved on. With a smile on my face, I went to sleep.
The next morning, I was at the conference again. This day was exceptionally difficult because I was trying really hard to “passionately” listen to others. I was trying not formulate any replies in my head when someone was talking. I was trying so hard to just pay attention to them. Once they finished talking, then I will talk. There was some white space between the dialogues. It was so awkward. I had never talked like that before. I kept reminding myself not to think of a response in my head. It was so tough and frustrating! But, I decided to stick with this idea of passionate listening and step outside of my comfort zone.
It took time, and slowly I got better and better with each interaction of passionately listening to others. This has become such a powerful tool for me. I was not only listening to the words but also to the whole person, their emotions and their body language. I truly hear them! I can use that same skills on myself too. I started listening and paying attention to my whole self!!! It was eye opening.
My friend Chris told me two years ago- “Pradeepa, whenever you talk to me, even in a crowded room full of people, I always feel you just give your total attention to me and make me feel heard and important.” I smiled and thought about the night in Chicago. I am a “Passionate Listener”!
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
I have taken that listening to the next level and dedicated my life to serving women, men and couples going through Infertility. That’s the right thing to do. That’s my purpose in life! That’s why I am born!
Few takeaways from my experience and some benefits of being a passionate listener:
- If we want to be truly heard, we need to passionately listen first.
- Passionate Listening is not an innate skill. We need to practice to refine the skill and benefit from passionate listening. We can do that by clearing our thoughts, silencing our mind and paying attention to others completely. It was really hard at first since I was not used to this way of listening. With practice, I got to be really good at it. With diligent practice anyone can become a passionate listener! Why not you?
- Passionate listening is a great gift to give your family, friends and colleagues going through any hardships in life – illness, loss of a loved one, infertility, any difficult life situation!
- Passionately listening led me to my life purpose to serve the infertility tribe! Give it a try and see where it takes you.
“How thankful I am today, to know that all my past struggles were necessary for me to be where I am now.” Unknown
Elephant Journal – July 2018(Published as a guest post by Pradeepa Narayanaswamy)