sitting in silence together

Why Silence is Sometimes the Best Solution (holding space for someone’s process)

Photo by Stephanie DeAngelis

“In Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”
― Rumi

Sitting opposite my therapist, gleaming at each other, the birds whistling outside as the setting sun shone through the leaves; my palms sweating, my heart throbbing.

I’d come for guidance. In a time of transition and feeling overwhelmed by the many changes taking place around me, I wanted at least him to tell me what to do. How relieving it would have been, to hear from someone else, what I thought I didn’t know just yet.

The answers weren’t given to me this time around. Instead, we sat there in silence. His presence and commitment to silence, holding me and inviting me to allow the emotions swirling inside to come to their natural resolution.
Then, there were some light affirmations, and more questions.

Leaving the room I felt light, I felt clear in the answers that had emerged through sitting with all that was in me. I felt held and almost most importantly, not alone in my experience.

In sitting with someone seeking guidance or holding, we can all too often fall into the pattern of problem-solving. In many cases, this can leave the person feeling more alone, less empowered and shortcut their natural process.

Sometimes we must consciously choose to hold the position of the listener. The position that sits, listens with a whole heart, and slowly allows the other person to come to their own resolutions.

So why is silence a precious commodity and how can we embrace it as a way of supporting others?

The urge to problem-solve.

How many times have you courageously shared something that wants to be heard in you, something vulnerable, tender and fragile; only to walk away feeling more alone, more distant and more uncertain?

How many times have you had someone share something with you and in your feeling-lost-for-words-or-ways, seek desperately for something useful, smart and soothing to say? 

Let me tell you, you are not alone in either of those experiences!

Many of us have been taught very well, through our schooling experience, to find the answers and to get it right. This tactic of finding the answers and getting them right, is how we feel we will be of service to the world around us.

This does serve in some contexts, of course, but it is definitely should not be a blanket approach for our dealings with others.

In jumping straight to problem-solving, we do 4 things:

  1. Take their power away by assuming that they don’t have the ability to come to conclusions themselves.

  2. Support their belief that there is a ‘problem’ by offering a ’solution.’

  3. Distance ourselves from them, placing ourselves in the ’saviour’ role and them in a ‘wounded’ role.

  4. Shortcut the process they need to go through, to reach a natural resolution.

As someone is sharing something from that we know very well is tender for them, through our innate capacity to empathise, it is normal to feel the heat and vulnerability of their experience, ourselves. This can be uncomfortable to sit with. So, we can turn to wanting to help them come to a resolution sooner rather than later.

This might be as much of a selfish motive, as it is self-less. We are also feeling the discomfort in their experience.

As this is a function of our innate capacity to empathise, what if instead of shying away from the discomfort and seeking to sooth and play the saviour, we met them there. 

What if we dropped into feeling how we were also feeling in this moment (not thinking, feeling), recognizing we are connecting with how they are feeling and from this place, asked ourselves how we would like to be held in this?

When we notice the story of the saviour, or the desire to resolve this discomfort, can we drop into the discomfort, meet the other person there? Can we sit with them?

Connecting to silence, restoring wholeness.

At the end of life, and in palliative care, silence often plays a big role in caregiving encounters. In spiritual and religious traditions, silence is considered a core part of the spiritual and existential dimensions to healthcare.

Sitting in silence can be described as: 

a way of being with another person, complementary to speech and non-verbal communication, which evokes a sense of companionship and connection. The caregiver takes both an active and participative role in the silence to create a space that allows the other person to be with themselves in a way that they may not be able to alone. 

Silence provides a way of, and medium for, communication that is well-beyond the capacity of words. It allows the person’s process to take its course in the safety and container of a relationship.

What we are holding for someone in these moments, is the space for them to know they’re not alone, and to slowly come back their own sense of wholeness and ‘enoughness.’ 

An invitation.

No of course, I’m not providing a solution here 😉 I’m hoping to expand the box, invite another layer to our way of being, together. 

An opportunity to have something now to catch ourselves with, when we are sitting with someone. Hopefully you will be able to notice, “oh I’m doing that thing again, problem-solving,” and return to listening and sitting. 

There will be times when this may not be possible, and that’s ok. Having the capacity to sit like this, with someone else, when you need to and can, is something we must all build if we are to re-weave a culture that can hold the wholeness of who we are.

What resonated with you in this piece? What’s still ringing inside you and stuck in some way? Let me know, as well as any thoughts or comments on the topic!

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