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Can a martial art help us hear one another?

Can anyone relate to the satisfaction that sometimes comes when we find a really good response to what someone else says? I am the first to admit that many times I have been guilty of listening to answer rather than to understand. Sometimes I've even thought that I don't need to continue listening because I already know what the other person is going to say and have a comeback on it.

For me, this usually happens in one of two possible scenarios. The first is when I, with good intentions and a genuine desire to be of help to the other person, am a little too eager to offer my answer (for instance in the form of knowledge, an insight, a solution to the problem, or a good quote) and it affects my ability to be present in the conversation. We "lose" each other.

The second, slightly more tough scenario is when what the other shares becomes an emotional trigger for me and I follow an impulse to defend, explain or protest. Or worse, to hurt if I myself feel hurt and misunderstood.

My guess is that I'm not alone in experiencing these scenarios and while there are moments when it's tempting to go into self-criticism, I do think it's human. We all have experiences from earlier in life, which become a kind of filter through which we hear and see each other, and through which we communicate. For example, it can be things from our childhood, beliefs, opinions, fears, positive and negative incidents. If we feel that these experiences prevent us from talking to each other in a loving way, then I don't think the most efficient solution is to blame, but rather to seek understanding and tools to handle a conversation that feels stressful or difficult.

Many years ago, I came into contact with such a tool in an encounter with the author Neale Donald Walsch. He (and several others with him, I noticed when I later googled it) talked about the concept of "mental Aikido".

Wikipedia describes Aikido as a modern Japanese martial art, developed by a man named Morihei Ueshiba. His desire was to create a martial art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while protecting their attackers from injury. The goal in the practice of Aikido is to overcome oneself instead of resorting to violence or aggressiveness and the aim is to achieve harmony. My interpretation of the term "mental Aikido" is that it is about changing one's response when one is faced with words or behaviors that are perceived as critical, negative or manipulative, and instead of going into counterattack seek understanding and connection. It’s like someone said: “Choose your battles. You don't have to attend every argument you're invited to.” Neale's version of mental Aikido was to exhale and simply say, "Thank you for sharing that with me."

Sometimes people talk about looking at things with new eyes. I wonder what would happen when instead, we try to listen to each other (and ourselves!) with new ears. There have been moments when I have found myself equating "really wanting to hear and understand" with "accepting a behavior and giving in", and in those moments it has become more clear why I sometimes have had such a hard time not to fight back.

And changing our dance toward another person is not always easy, especially if we feel alone in doing so. For those who would like support in finding tools to understand or improve communication with someone in their life, I offer consultations via video and email. Book here on this website under the "sessions" tab.

I also want to give to you some of the kindest words I know, which come from Karen Drucker's beautiful song Gentle with myself (which is available on YouTube): "I will only go as fast as the slowest part of me feels safe to go."



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