Not Fixing Things

One of the highlights of the last year for me was having the opportunity to take a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. I have been meditating on my own for quite a while and had heard of Jon Kabat-Zinn and MBSR, but other than learning a little about the research around its effectiveness in a graduate class, I really didn’t know much. It was amazing spend a few hours a week, in community with other educators, diving deeper into the practices.

One of the things that has stuck with me the most came very early in the class as we went over the guidelines for the program– including this one: “Practice listening without an agenda & without trying to problem solve . . . We support each other by simply listening– not by offering advice or trying to solve each other’s problems.”*

We support each other by simply listening.

Despite the word simple being right there in that sentence– this is anything but. I’m a fixer. As I’m sure many of us who find ourselves in some sort of human-centered work are. I want to give you answers. Alleviate your pain. Help you. And yet, so many things in life don’t actually have answers. Sometimes pain can’t be alleviated. And it’s likely what I think is help isn’t what you need at all.

Practice Listening without an agenda & without trying to problem solve.

There is so much in that statement. The challenge not to think of the next right thing to say. To sit with ambiguous problems and not brainstorm solutions. To listen to hard things. To thank someone for being vulnerable and sharing with you. To not offer the salve of it-will-be-okay that is so second nature.

I’m learning that this not fixing isn’t doing nothing. Instead of giving solutions and fixes and platitudes, I can instead give the gift of actual presence with someone else. Of hearing their words. The literal holding of quiet space. I’m far from perfect at it, but I’m eager to continue practicing.

*from Mindfulness Training in Turbulent Times / Chelsea Muth, PhD / MBSR Richmond

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