I haven’t met a cat who could resist catnip. And I haven’t met a fellow HSP who could resist a deep, meaningful connection with another person. We crave it because it helps us connect to our spiritual selves.
How is that so? As HSP’s, our energy flows differently from non-HSP’s. Only after we take in experiences and process them deeply does it feel right to act. I call this the introspection/action loop.
In other words, while processing and reflection are necessary for us to restore our peace when we get overstimulated, they are much more than that. This deep self-connection metabolizes our experiences into the fuel which powers our action in the world. The introspection/action loop is the mechanism by which we live our values.
How does listening relate to self-connection?
Can’t we just go inside and think? Yes, of course. But we can go deeper with the right kind of listening. With complex or intense issues, we may need company to make any headway at all.
Remember the movie Apollo 13: thousands of miles out in space, the astronauts are in a critical emergency. Back at Mission Control, a crew-cut engineer disappears and returns with a box containing a duplicate of every object the astronauts have on board, in an urgent effort to fashion a solution. Do you remember the first thing he does?
He dumps it all out on a big table.
For an HSP, trying to process complex issues alone can be like rummaging in the box without dumping it out. There more “stuff” you’ve got in there, the more your ability to process it is hampered. Everything is tangled together and you can’t see clearly.
If we leave things in this tangled state, we get out of alignment with our values. Then we get anxious or depressed. HSP’s are environmentally susceptible, and this is true of our internal environment as well as our external one. At times like this, we we need the support of someone else who can create a friendly “environment” for us.
Sitting with another person who listens in the right way is like having a big table on which you can spread out your stuff. In fact, it is even better than that: some things can’t exist “inside the box” but can expand and become visible when given enough breathing space.
HSP spirituality and the need for meaning
As HSP’s, we are hardwired to look for meaning, beyond the basics of “what,” “who,” and “when.” We are deeply concerned with, “Why?” and “What are the implications of this?” and “What is the meaning of this for me, others, the world?” Like the Apollo 13 engineers, we aren’t just taking stuff out of a box: we are asking, “What can I make of all this?”
Because we are always asking this, life is an ongoing spiritual unfolding for us. We can’t help it. It isn’t about being religious (you may be or you may not be.) It’s just a truth you can’t keep looking for deeper meaning without bumping in to the spiritual.
To be happy, we need to live in integrity with our values, which are sacred to us. The good news: this does not require you to talk about your personal spiritual practice to anyone (apologies if you thought that’s where I was heading with last week’s article, Why does it feel risky to talk about our HSP spirituality?)! In fact, the listening practice that supports connection to meaning is an eminently practical expression of daily spirituality: my partner and I listen to each other like this every day and you can do it anywhere, with anyone.
How to listen
To listen this way, the Listener has to make three commitments:
- Maintain the attitude that what the Speaker is sharing is sacred—that is, “entitled to reverence and respect.” When you enter this sacred space, leave your own reactions, comments, judgments, stories, advice and reassuring words at the door.
- Make sure you heard what the Speaker meant. Don’t assume anything until you have confirmed it. This will require you to reflect or paraphrase what you heard. The Speaker might respond with, “Yes, that’s it.” Or they might correct you, in which case you reflect that. Do this until you get it right.
- Firmly plant yourself in an attitude of nonjudgmental acceptance and curiosity towards the Speaker. When you are in the Listener role, whether or not you agree with the Speaker is beside the point. If you disagree, remind yourself that “acceptance does not equal agreement” and commit to remain curious about the meaning this has for them. (This requires sacred stubbornness!)
The fruits of listening
When another person listens to you this way—attentively, non-judgmentally, checking to see if they have understood what you said, curious about the meaning to you of what you have said without adding any comment or advice—the effect is striking. You will likely feel encouraged, because your heart (le coeur) has been heard. You may feel peace, relief, clarity, or galvanized energy.
Try this: have a conversation with someone close to you. Take turns being the Listener. Follow the four commitments above. Observe for yourself that when you have support in connecting to your sacred sense of inner rightness, you feel energized and enlivened. Like catnip, the feeling is irresistible.
Imagine how much we can contribute to peace if we commit to taking the three listening commitments into every conversation we have, especially those with people who are unable to return the favor. This is concrete action in service of a commitment to see the sacred in each human being. To sensitive people—tending, as we do, to take things personally—this can be very challenging. But what could be more worthwhile?