Welcome to Joy Lab!: [00:00:00] Welcome to the joy lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach.
Henry: Hello! I'm Henry Emmons.
Aimee: And I'm Aimee Prasek. So welcome to Joy Lab, where we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy. To do that, we focus on our elements of joy, the positive inner states that become the building blocks for a joyful life. In this episode, we're talking about our fourth lesson of loving well: learning to listen deeply.
So we'll start with some words from Kevin Kelly, futurist, which I guess is the opposite of historian, [00:01:00] perhaps. I don't know. I've never quite understood it. Anyway, he's also the co-founder of wired magazine and he's done some great Ted Talks. Here are his wise words: he notes being able to listen well is a superpower.
We love that and we'll circle back to it later, but for now it's a great context for this episode. So listening well. I think it's important to note a few things. The first is that it's not just a nice thing to do for others; listening. And second, it's not just for therapists or kindergarten classes. It's really a superpower that makes us better colleagues, better friends, better parents.
And I think the other really cool thing here is that it helps us listen to ourselves. You can know what you really want and how to get more meaning and purpose in your life. It grows love. And we really practice this in our dialogue with your soul experiment in the [00:02:00] Joy Lab program. So some of you who are in the program with us, maybe you're already really practicing your skill of listening deeply.
It's a powerful experiment. Um, but Henry, let's talk about how we can all access this superpower of listening.
Henry: Yes. I love this topic. Several years ago, I worked with groups of health professionals in a program through the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. Some of the listeners know about that. We called our program, the "Inner Life of Healers" and listening was really one of the core skills that we worked on, in all of these retreats.
Henry: Now you might be a little bit surprised to know how, what minimal attention there is in medical training to actually being a good listener.
Henry: You know, it is [00:03:00] such an important skill and not just clinicians, but everybody, we miss so much when we don't really listen to others like our patients. Now, usually in healthcare, I'll I'll cut us a little slack,
I think our problem, one of our big problems, is that we are so rushed that, you know, we're often thinking about what question to ask next, what lab test to order, how to solve this person's problem. And, you know, I can just tell you that if problem solving is your goal, it's not a very good starting point for being a good listener.
Henry: So, um, before we go further into this, Aimee, is it okay if I ask you sort of a personal question?
Aimee: Well, if anybody listened to last episode, the answer is obviously, yes . Please let me tell you more information.
Henry: That's right. And I guess I don't even really need to ask.
Henry: So here's my question: can you remember a time when someone really listened to you when you felt that you were really heard at kind of a deeper level. And when there was no judgment, but just acceptance of what you were saying.
Aimee: Actually I have a super recent one and, um, completely related to what you just said about practitioners listening, so I think it'll be a good fit here. So I met with a new GP in January, general practitioner, and shared with them this ongoing issue I've had that really got worse in 2011, way back.
So something I've been dealing with for more than, you know, 11 years or. It was primarily chronic muscle and spine pain with some weird other symptoms. Anyway, I won't TMI you with that. Um, but I'd seen so many folks about it. You know, there just were no easy [00:05:00] observable answers that were coming up with tests though.
And they would actually never really ask me any questions after those tests came back. They would just generally send me home with stretching exercises, prescriptions for muscle relaxants, lots of those. Another gave me a book on witches, which was very confusing because I wasn't sure if he was calling me a witch or telling me to be careful of witches.
Anyway, back to that office. Seriously! um, I came in for a, a second visit after a series of labs and scans, and we sat down and she said, " I know something is going on, I just don't know what it is, but I want to." I was kind of blown away just by that statement alone. And then she just started asking me questions and she listened while I talked.
She took some notes. She asked me about the help of my dad, my mom, my sister, my grandparents. She asked me more about my pain, my good days, my bad days. She asked me [00:06:00] if there were sort of even any vaguely related symptoms that were present in other family members. She just kept asking and listening for more than an hour.
And I know she was getting totally backed up with her patients. Cause as you note, Henry, listening well is not something that our healthcare system really supports. So again, I'm not trying to come down on doctors here, but she listened and after our time together, she solved it. She thought I might have something called Ehler's Danlos syndrome.
She sent me to a specialist and after some testing, I had a diagnosis that was spot on. And with that information, fascinating, I realized that for 15 years, I'd been trying most things to feel better, that just made my situation worse, like over stretching, which every practitioner had told me to do.
Henry: Yeah. Wow. Thank you for sharing that, Aimee. I I've so curious about the, the witch, uh, thing, but I I'm going to we'll we'll take that [00:07:00] conversation offline.
Aimee: I'll embrace it, I'm a witch.
Henry: So I have a follow up question. I wonder if you can describe, what was it about this doctor, or about you at that moment that really made this exchange between you different than the others. You know, you've shared things with people a thousand times, we all have. So I guess I'm asking what was the magic sauce that made it work well in this particular instance.
Aimee: I think the most important thing, was that she valued my insight and cared about my pain. I could feel that with that first sort of, statement, she said, something's going on. I don't know what it is, but I want to. And she didn't try to guide me or correct me when I was talking.
She didn't interrupt me. She didn't dismiss me. As you had said earlier, Henry, she didn't try to problem solve me. She just listened [00:08:00] at the beginning. And it built up my confidence to share with her, all of these other health stories from, you know, myself and my immediate family that I had never thought of much or associated together.
She gave me the space to sort of bring them into the conversation. And she obviously had, some skills to ask the right questions. Her medical expertise came into play. But it, wasn't necessarily that it was her ability to listen without an agenda. And with belief that my insight had value that I think became the most important diagnostic tool.
Henry: Wow. Well, thank you. You've you've really touched on a lot of the qualities that we used to teach in the inner life of healers program.
Aimee: She probably went through your program!
Aimee: Wouldn't that be a great end to this?
Henry: That would be great. Um, so I just wanna say a little bit more about that program because it was just so fun and meaningful to do. And I, [00:09:00] I grew so much through being part of it. Now, it was based on the work of Parker Palmer, who I've talked about in earlier podcasts. A real mentor for me. So Parker created this method of working in groups in a retreat setting that was really based on deep, personal reflection. But the interesting part of this is that you're not just going off by yourself, in an isolated way and reflect. In order to really draw out your own thoughts,
we spent a ton of our time in small groups with three or four people where we used the skills of deep listening. The idea was, you're better able to hear your own voice, your authentic inner voice, if you speak your truth out loud. And here's the really important [00:10:00] part: that truth needs to be received openly received by at least one other person. If we feel the least bit threatened, if we sense any judgment or even disinterest, or if the other person just seems rushed, we're going to hide that truth. It's not gonna come out. We won't even see it for ourselves. Now, I know that it doesn't make any sense. Why would we hide the truth from ourselves? But it's really true isn't it?
Aimee: Yeah, I like that saying you have to name it to tame it. Or you have to feel it to heal it. Just this idea that if we don't acknowledge something and I don't think we even have to like analyze it exhaustively, or even really at all sometimes, but to just see it and accept it as we talk about here at Joy Lab, then we can move forward. Being permeable, like we were talking about last episode, head over [00:11:00] there, number 23, if you haven't yet. You know, I remember when I was at a therapy appointment three years after my dad died. I was explaining to the therapist, that my childhood was perfect prior to that moment that my dad died.
And after my dad died, that's when everything changed, all of these family secrets came out, all this struggle and shame and suffering that had been buried with no communication of it prior. But it all came out after my dad died. So to my brain, everything seemed perfect up until that point. And the therapist said to me,
" I don't think it was perfect before your dad died." Whatever perfect is. And it was like the most obvious thing an external observer could say, but for me embedded in it, I just couldn't see it. Or I didn't wanna see it. [00:12:00] Like you were just referring to Henry, but after the therapist said it, it was like someone pulled a shade open and I could see out the window.
I could see or, see in the mirror it just became more clear. Um, yeah, it wasn't perfect that day. That moment my dad died was just the moment where it all kind of exploded. And I was hiding that truth, I think, um, with the desire to keep something that felt right or good or normal on paper. Which I think can be a lot of those motivations. To sort of tuck things under the rug. But once I opened up to that truth, that it wasn't perfect when I could see it, then I could actually as well see the stuff that was joyful before his death truly joyful and the stuff that was really hard and sad and unhealthy.
And that's when I started my healing and, I read your book, [00:13:00] "Chemistry of Joy" two years later, Henry.
Henry: Wow. Well, thanks. I hope it was helpful. You know, like I said, in our last episode, much of that book came directly outta my own experience with real pain and loss, which I think is why it feels authentic to a lot of readers. So, um, there was this particular exercise that we did in, in our retreats, which for most people was I think the peak experience of the retreat.
And it's called a clearness committee. It was adapted by Parker Palmer from the Quakers. He was a Quaker himself. And clearness committees are meant to help someone who has some sort of important life question. Or maybe they're at a fork in the road and they just don't know what to do. They have a, a decision to make that they just can't make. [00:14:00] All of us have been there.
And we know that these next steps we take are going to be important. We just don't know what steps they should be. So I won't go into too much detail about this, but it's a really remarkable process. And it is definitely one of the times when I personally felt really listened to. So, uh, for two whole hours, when I was the focus person, I was their sole focus for by five or six other people, sitting in this circle. And now let me tell you, two hours is a really long time to have the undivided attention of that many people.
Henry: In fact, at first it felt kind of uncomfortable, a little bit awkward. But the further I went into it, the more it began to feel luxurious, like kinda like I was being showered by their attention.[00:15:00]
Henry: So for about the first 15 to 20 minutes we're were given those, these instructions. I was able to talk about this issue, dilemma, life turning point, the, the stuff I was struggling with. Give some background, describe the things I'd tried, explore. You know, where was I feeling stuck. And during this time, the group's only assignment, they were given
these very clear instructions, was to listen without interruption, no questions, no nothing. Just to sit there and take it in. They weren't supposed to utter a word. And after that for about 90 minutes, the group could ask questions of me. In fact, that was the only thing that they could do. During that time they could not give advice.
They weren't supposed to share their anything from their own stories. They weren't supposed to [00:16:00] make any suggestions. Only ask questions.
Henry: And it's amazing what that does in terms of bringing more out of a person. Now, this is important, there's this distinction that we make, that the questions are supposed to be real questions. That means it's something they actually felt curious about, not something that they thought they already had an answer to or, and were trying to just lead me to that conclusion. And also not something that could be answered with a yes or no. It needed to be an open ended, honest question. And then for the last 15 minutes or so of this experience, then the group could give me feedback and I just sat there and listened and I wasn't supposed to say anything.
So, during that time they, they had taken [00:17:00] notes. They, they were told they could take notes during the question and answer period. And they often would read back something that struck them as important. They wouldn't give any evaluation of it. They would just read it back often, word for word, as I had said it.
And then any feedback they gave me was not supposed to be critical feedback, no suggestions or, or advice or anything. It was just positive and kind of maybe reflecting things back from my own voice. It was really powerful to hear the things I had said that I didn't quite know were in me.
It kind of made me realize that I had more answers within me than I knew. And more wisdom than I probably knew.
Aimee: I love that process so much. I had to pull up a quote here. Um, That just sort of described this experience for me, Henry. So it's from author Sarah Dessen. She says, [00:18:00] "this is the problem with dealing with someone who is actually a good listener. They don't jump in on your sentences, saving you from actually finishing them. Or talk over you, allowing what you do, manage to get out, to be lost or altered in transit. Instead they wait,
so you have to keep going." Isn't that good?
Henry: That's awesome.
Aimee: Right! I was just imagining those two hours and just, when somebody is listening and you do, it just feels like this gentle pull and you just keep going and keep exploring and your wisdom comes out. So that preparation that care that each person made for that experience as well, I just think is so powerful.
It demonstrates that listening is a skill. Just like anything else we want to get better at. Any other skill, we just really have to practice it to get good at it. The other thing it brings up for me is that I think when we listen, we sometimes think the most important thing we can do, [00:19:00] particularly when someone is expressing a struggle, is to tell them what to do.
Like you had said earlier, Henry, problem solving. You know, we put this pressure on ourselves to solve it for them. And we step on their words then, as the quote before I just noted. And I, think it shuts down our listening skills. Certainly, it shuts down the communication skills, both ways. Um, because we're just more focused on what we're going to say.
I know I've been there a million times, I'm listening 50%, maybe 40 and the other 60 or so is, "what am I gonna say? What am I gonna say?" But to imagine this experience and to imagine the times when we've really felt listened to it is just this gift of undivided attention that, that's that gift.
It's not advice. It's more about giving time and presence and just honoring that other person.
Henry: Yeah, I think it, it really starts with this firm belief that the other person you're listening to doesn't need [00:20:00] to be fixed. They're not flawed to begin with. So, you know, maybe that's what makes this such a super power. I wanna circle back to Kevin Kelly, who we started out with. He also has what he calls a rule of three in conversations.
And I like this. It's so simple. He says to get to the real reason, ask a person to go deeper than what they just said, then again, and once more. The third time's answer is close to the truth. Keep asking them, "is there more?" Until there is no more. I think we humans are complex, multi-layered, and our deepest truths often have to be kind of coaxed out from us, [00:21:00] invited. And the conditions that that's done have to be very, very safe. So when we learn to listen well, that's what we can offer to others. And just by creating that capacity, that ability within ourselves, we can offer that same receptive, non-judging presence to us.
Aimee: Yeah, I love that listening creates that invitation. Uh, for someone, that coaxing, like you said, Henry, and for ourselves. It also creates that foundation for creating a genuine, life-giving community, or a house of belonging as we'll describe in our next episode on loving well. It's a good transition. Uh, before we go though, there are two quotes coming up for me based on what we've gotten into, and that really tie up our convo, with some key reminders on why listening to ourselves and to others is so [00:22:00] essential.
The first is from Paulo Coelho. He wrote, "All wisdom was a result of listening to one's own soul." And the second is from psychiatrist, Dr. Karl Menninger. He said, "Listening is a magnetic and strange thing. A creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to it creates us, makes us unfold, and expand."
Thanks for joining us!: Thank you for listening to the Joy Lab podcast. If you enjoy today's show, visit JoyLab.coach to subscribe for your monthly infusion of joy, and to learn more about the full Joy Lab program. Be sure to rate and review us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.