Welcome to Joy Lab!: 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 and welcome to Joy Lab.
Aimee: And I'm Aimee Prasek. Here at Joy Lab, we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy. To do that, we focus on building the elements of joy. The positive emotions and inner inner states that become the blocks for a joyful life. The element for this episode is curiosity, and we're working on the third aspect of deep listening that Henry laid out in one of his books, "The Chemistry of Calm," which is called "seeing the person's innocence."
I love this, because I think so often when we are listening, at least when I'm listening, we get stuck instead with seeing the other person's problem or seeing the person's solution. Yeah. So, we're looking at seeing the person's innocence here. And actually in an episode we did a while back on listening, Henry, you noted that when we listen with a focus on solving someone's problem, then we can't really listen well.
Henry: Yes, you're right. I do remember saying that.
Aimee: You said it.
Henry: And I might have also said that being a physician, I was trained to help solve people's problems. And that is an important function for doctors and a lot of other professionals and other folks too. So sometimes it is best to listen with that intent to solve problems. But you would be surprised at how poor a training that is for actually listening well.
And if you add in, you know, the time pressure that most health professionals feel under, you can see why so many folks complain about not being heard by their doctors.
Aimee: Yeah, we all wanna feel heard, you know, in the doctor's office and in daily life. So let's jump right into the strategies. Actually, let's get into it. Uh, a strategy we can use to shift out of judgment and problem solving mode is something called "empathic curiosity." Just means we have an intention to understand someone else's thoughts or feelings.
Empathic listening is one way to do that. To drum up that empathic curiosity. And so, you know, with this aspect that we're talking about today, this deep listening aspect, "seeing the innocence of others," that offers a kind of intention to hold as we're listening, I think one that opens up empathy and curiosity.
So to do this, I like to look to some of the work from philosopher Martin Buber on curiosity and listening. So Buber, particularly in his book, "I am Thou," distinguished between hearing and listening, and he identified listening as a spiritual act. Love it.
He noted that if we want to really step into our spirituality, to sort of access that transcendent space then it was this kind of deep listening and a continuous dialogue with the people around us, and also with a higher power, like those two things, an equal weight to step into that space, um, that transcendent sacred space.
And I don't think it means, you know, we have to have that conversation with a God if that's not your jam. It can be nature, but something bigger than just the individual self. And I think, also this idea of these conversations happening in equal weight, means that conversations with the people around us are sacred. There's a paragraph in his book, "I Am Thou," that just draws me in every time I read it and makes me think of empathic curiosity, this deep listening, this sacred opportunity to listen to the people around me.
As I usually do, I take some liberty to update the pronouns, but I wanna read it to you. So, here's what he wrote when he confronts a human being with that kind of sacred listening:
" There are no thing among things, nor do they consist of things. They are no longer he or she. A dot in the world grid of space and time. Nor a condition to be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities, neighborless and seamless. They are thou and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but they, but everything else lives in their light."
What a way to approach a conversation, right?
Henry: Wow No kidding.
Aimee: Um, you can't help but see the innocence in someone when you approach them with without categories or descriptions. Um, and this, you know, this belief that they are offering you insight and wisdom that is sacred and part of something so much bigger than just what you see or hear, or have seen or heard before. It's pretty beautiful.
Henry: You continue to surprise me, Aimee! Martin Buber! and the book you mentioned, those ha had a big impact on me when I was younger and I'm, I'm just really glad to know that you're familiar with
Henry: so cool.
Aimee: We know our obscure philosophers. don't know if he's that obscure, but yeah. That's great. I'm not surprised actually.
Henry: Wow. Well, years ago I started a program called "The Inner Life of Healers." Which was intended to help renew the, the passion and purpose that that most folks have when they go into a healing profession. And for so many reasons we, which we probably all have an idea about, a lot of people have become depleted somewhere along the line. And so in this program, "deep listening" was one of the things we really focused on. In one of those seminars, I heard this story that really touched me, and I still still remember it. So the woman who shared it was a nurse who was nearing the end of her career at the time of this seminar, but she shared a story from really early in her career, one of her first jobs when she was working in the hospital with really sick patients.
And so she shared that that one evening she was assigned to work with an elderly woman in the hospital who was terminally ill. She was dying and everybody knew she was dying, but nobody was talking about it. Not her family, not her treatment team, and this young nurse, young at the time. She herself felt really intimidated by this, and so she tried to spend as little time in that patient's room as possible. But one evening when she was working, she was in that room while the charge nurse came in.
And this was a woman with tons of experience and somebody who clearly knew how to listen well. And so when this older, more experienced nurse entered the room, the elderly woman simply asked her outright, am I dying? And instead of avoiding it or giving her some kind of platitude, The charge nurse sat down on her bed, held her hand, looked her in the eyes, and simply said, "are you scared?" So the woman who was telling us this story in the workshop, she was a newbie nurse at the time, and she said, I was scared.
But asking that simple question, broke the dam, and the woman talked for a long time about how she knew that she was dying and the fears and other feelings she had about it. And this young nurse felt like she was a fly on the wall, that she got to observe all of this, and it was sacred, just like quote talked about. And she said that this was a lesson early on in her career about how to listen, that she would never forget. There was no judgment, no need to fix things. No attempt to avoid an uncomfortable topic. Just this simple, open-ended, empathic response that opened up a whole new level of acceptance for this woman. Now, it didn't change her illness, but it helped her to face it with so much more dignity and authenticity.
Aimee: That's it, right? That's empathic curiosity. That's empathic listening. Seeing the innocence of others. It's perfect Henry. Um, and you can feel that sacred space and like these boundaries dissolving between them and even, and that young nurse watching like probably how that broke down some barriers and obstacles for her.
It's just beautiful. And so actually I wanna jump then to, uh, an empathy researcher. It's reminding me of Dr. Jodi Halpern, talks a lot about the power of empathic curiosity to ease anxiety. I think this is important. It's a really interesting insight, uh, mainly because it takes us out of the stories we might be telling ourselves.
Like our biases, catastrophic thinking, maybe big generalizations we might have, based on very little evidence. These assumptions generally make us anxious and we approach conversations with those oftentimes. But when we get curious, it moves those things out of the spotlight, including our anxiety and reactivity.
It gives us a more solid ground to start from. Let's take a elephant in the room and donkeys in the room. As an example. Imagine you're having a conversation with someone and you find out that they're not in your political circle. There's the elephant donkey, um, like the opposite of you. You know, so I'm sure this is
This makes sense to many of us. Instead of seeing the innocence in them, uh, in that person that's the opposite sort of political side than you, it's super easy for that ticker tape of sound bites to start moving through your head, right? Mostly inspired by what you've heard from whatever media you might consume. And then you start to get tight in your chest.
Coming back to a little bit of what we talked about last episode, you might feel anxious or reactive. These internal sensations start popping up. You think this idiot doesn't get it! Is what the thoughts start popping. And then how does listening go? Right? It sucks. It turns into a cold shoulder or a shouting match or just like, please, I don't have time for you.
I, and I'm not on a soapbox here. I am speaking from experience and something that I'm really trying to work on. But at each conversation, uh, I think I do get a little better. I channel that wisdom from Martin Buber and like that nurse that you just described, Henry. I interpret this conversation and this person as sacred, and I wanna see the innocence of them.
Because I want them to see the same in me too. And seriously I have had some really wonderful conversations with folks that I would have never had without this approach.
Henry: Wow. I love that you do that, Aimee, and I think it is such a great and relevant example about how our politics are changing the way that we see each other.
Henry: and I admit it can be hard to practice this in the heat of the moment. So it is really good to, to do what you're doing and set that intention ahead of time.
To me, this notion of seeing the innocence in others boils down to just not judging them.
Henry: And it's, it's one of the core principles of mindfulness as I, as I've learned it. It's to see what is without judgment.
I like having the word innocence in here because it helps me to set these judgments aside. It reminds me that, you know, we're each just doing the best that we can. And it conveys this sort of childlike quality in a good way, sort of a like a purity that exists in each of us. There's a great poem by John Fox that I think gets at this notion, and I'm not gonna read the whole thing, but here are the first couple of stanzas:
" When someone deeply listens to you, it is like holding out a dented cup that you have had since childhood and watching it fill up with cold, fresh water. When it balances on the top of the rim, you're understood. When it overflows and touches your skin, you are loved.
Aimee: You are loved. I love with listening, with seeing the innocence in others, just that intention as we listen, we can actually fill someone's cup and help them feel more loved, just like we all wanna feel. It's a perfect poem. And so that's the challenge, seeing the innocence in others. And listening With that curiosity and empathy. Uh, we'll have this more sort of formally set up and described in our challenge area over in our resilient community, which if you haven't joined yet, we would really love to have you there.
It's a place to share and listen, place to focus on these skills that build up our resilience and joy. And when you join, you'll help keep this podcast going as well, which means you can listen deeply week after week, that might be the tagline. Listen deeply, we go
Um, close our time here, let's look back to a little bit more from Martin Buber for some wisdom. Here's what he said:
" I do not accept any absolute formulas for living. No preconceived code can see ahead to everything that can happen in our life. As we live, we grow and our beliefs change. They must change. So I think we should live with this constant discovery. We should be open to this adventure in heightened awareness of living. We should stake our whole existence on our willingness to explore and experience."
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