Sometimes close listening is too complex – more subtle than a person can handle, who is very young, or severely wounded, mentally frail, dying, brain-damaged, freaking out, unable to process complex language, fading in and out of consciousness, crazy, or profoundly limited just now in some other way.
Simplified listening has its uses at ordinary times too – when meeting a person for the first time, or when two people share only a few words in a common language; when a person is very tired and trying to focus, or just waking, or drifting off to sleep, or changing from one context to another, or busy gathering their energy for a performance of some kind, or when a person feels frightened or suspicious.
Simplified listening was worked out by Garry Prouty (he calls it 'pre-therapy'), during his many years of devoted and selfless commitment to the lives and well-being of deeply troubled people.
Learn these simple-seeming, necessary moves now. They are a basic resource, which you may need in a hurry. Here they are:
You can say something simple about the physical surroundings – "It's raining", "The room is cold". The plain saying of what is real and present helps the person to be in contact with the world – that world which just now is so unstable, so volant, so elusive and so unreal.
You can say something simple about the person's facial expression – "You look tired", "You look sad", "You are frowning", "You look scared". Saying what you are seeing in the face may help the person to be in contact with their feelings, and to be in contact with you. The person is cradled in the tenderness of your immediate understanding.
You can say (or copy) the person's actions – "You are curled up in a ball", "You are sitting up straight", "You are lying still". The person comes back into contact with the body, into the most immediate contact with life and the world, as you echo their bodily attitude.
Word for word reflection
When the person says something, you can say it back, exactly.
You are not feeling underneath for a deeper meaning. You are not making sense of what is said. This person (alas) is beyond all that, just now. You are meeting the words head on, in a sense – accepting with great simplicity and directness just exactly those words which the person can and does form.
These are the words which this person can make sense of just now. Why would you force a person to make an effort, which they cannot make, to grasp other words – your words – which you add to the situation?
No – let's stay with the person's own words, their words, the words they can deal with, the words which happen here.
Sometimes you see a response. Something happens in the person, when you reflect the situation, the face, the body, or the words that they say.
Oh! You said something right. Well, why not say it again?
Since it was helpful, let's do it some more (now or in a little while). That way, it can have its full effect.
From isolation to contact
This wonderful method of simplified listening sounds, I guess, like nothing. And yet at the right time it is a life-saver – a bridge from isolation to humanity, to belonging, and to the world.
People need to be in contact with themselves, with you, and with physical reality. Simplified listening is a direct path to this contact, to being in touch.
Until you are in touch, you know nothing but isolation. Perhaps not even pain. Once there is contact, other things can happen.
It may be possible to live – to eat or to wash, to step out of trance or delusion, to rejoin the human community, or to die in peace. Where contact is, there life begins again.
The pace of simplified listening is slow, the manner patient. Much of the time, you will be silent – quiet and present, simply waiting and being with. Occasionally, you reflect something, by word or action.
It is helpful when you are not afraid. The more you are at peace with what is happening, the better.
And of course, you may be afraid, and far from peaceful. Well, so be it. We listen from where we are. There isn't anywhere else to be, after all.
Next: Listening sensitivities