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Lions Roar : May 2018
The Undefended Heart The way to helpful communication in difficult situ- ations, says RAY BUCKNER, is by pausing, creating space, and listening to your body and mind. I WAS SITTING IN BED waiting for her. I’d just finished an hour’s worth of panic attacks when my body finally became still. It was in that stillness—marked by a soothing solitude and a quiet mind—that I noticed exactly what was arising, how I was hurting, and what I wanted to say. When she first arrived, I tried to speak but couldn’t—too afraid of dismissal, rejection, and shame, qualities that char- acterized our recent conversations. I finally worked up the courage to share my difficult truth: “I just feel like I don’t really matter.” She rolled her eyes. I was devastated. In an instant, my awareness was obliterated. Distress filled my body, and I couldn’t breathe. This is often how it goes when interacting with difficult people. We yearn for understanding, but when we touch a harsh and unaccepting presence, we close down. And when we’re the difficult person, we become reactive and cause oth- ers to freeze and keep silent. Whether the situation is deeply volatile and anxiety pro- voking, or subtle in its creation of anguish, anger, or fear, the bottomline is this: working with difficult people and dealing with difficult situations doesn’t have to be so painful. No matter if we are the difficult person or the difficult person is another, we can employ the simple technique of pausing, taking space, and asking ourselves some fundamen- tal questions about our suffering. In this way, our difficulty can transform into helpful awareness. In effect, working with difficulty begins with us. Being in contact with a difficult person can cause us to con- tract and lose connection with our bodies. In these states of distress, slight or extreme, we need to take the time to return to ourselves. When we listen to our body and mind with a loving ear, we begin to understand our pain, honor our experience, and hold ourselves with much needed compassion. It’s helpful to find time to be alone, so that with ample space we may ask ourselves: Where in my body is the hurt located? When I reflect on this difficult person, what arises for me? How does this difficult person’s behavior cause me pain? Difficult people suffer deeply and lack the understanding and skills to act differently. Our responsibility as practitioners is to help them transform the roots of their suffering. —MITCHELL RATNER