Listening without judgment
A central type of healing that can occur in group meetings, in comparison to everything we have known in our lives until today, is achieved through listening to people with respect, acceptance, and compassion, without negative judgment about what they express.
For that to be possible, all participants agree not to respond negatively to anything others say. This is true for things we share from our inner world, as well as for things others say while trying to help.
The basis is empathy, thinking not only about ourselves but also on the other person – how they would feel if I tell them something, and how I would feel if I were told such a thing.
What to do about judgmental thoughts
What can we do if judgment arises within us? This indeed may happen, yet we can discern between actions and thoughts. We do not have to express every thought we think, especially those with a negative judgment.
On the other hand, we do want to respect and give an appropriate place for anything that occurs within us, including judgmental thoughts. The solution is for us to choose to share such thoughts without “taking a stance”. So instead of simply expressing these thoughts as if they are factually true (“You are such and such…”), we can share that these judgmental thoughts automatically arose within us, and that we acknowledge that these are merely thoughts and not necessarily our “official stance”. We can understand that the interesting thing about such thoughts is not the other person, but rather investigating why these thoughts arose within us, and sharing what is our pain that lies behind them.
Listening with our hearts
To make it easier on ourselves to adhere to this principle, we adopt an intention to “listen with an open heart” rather than “listen through our mind”. So we focus on the feelings and pain of the other person, rather than on the opinions and beliefs that our mind has regarding the other person’s words and deeds.
Taking responsibility for our mistakes
We are all imperfect and make mistakes. Due to our habits, there may be times were we accidentally express a negative judgment on something that someone else in the group said. What should be done about this?
In such a situation it is important to stop the conversation, and direct everyone’s attention to what has just happened. The person who judged another would be requested to notice what they said and share their own pain that led to expressing judgment. They would also be requested to take responsibility for what they said, acknowledge the pain that might have resulted in the judged person, ask for forgiveness, and accept the other’s understanding.
Thanks to this correction, both people could actually become closer where previously there was distance and alienation. This is the kind of healing of relationships that we strive to create.
Being aware of subtleties
It is worthwhile to point out that we all occasionally “sin” with minor judgmental reactions, without noticing it.
For example, one person may express a feeling such as boredom in relation to a certain exercise. Suddenly, another person blurts “I actually thought it was very interesting” or “but this is a very important topic”. This happens because some automatic knee-jerk reaction happened, without the person stopping to filter what comes out of their mouth.
Although this is not a direct or harsh criticism, the first person may feel as a result that what they said was belittled a bit, and their feelings were not given proper space, recognition, and acknowledgement.
One needs to be at a very high level of awareness to successfully refrain from such automatic reactions, but this is the space we aspire to create. It is a space where everyone feels harmony. Therefore, we will put an emphasis on noticing any discomfort we have regarding interactions in the group, and point out any situation that lacks harmony so that we can learn from it and improve ourselves.