While imprisoned for 27 years, Nelson Mandela repeated this poem to himself whenever he touched into his abyss.
A sluggard once approached a fasting saint
And, baffled by despair, made this complaint:
“The devil is a highwayman, a thief,
Who’s ruined me and robbed me of belief.”
The saint replied: “Young man, the devil too
Has made his way here to complain – of you.
“My province is the world, ” I heard him say;
“Tell this new pilgrim of God’s holy way
To keep his hands off what is mine. If I
Attack him it’s because his fingers pry
In my affairs; if he will leave me be,
He’s no concern of mine and can go free.”
Farid Ud-Din Attar
In a world of perpetual noise, it sometimes feels as if the only way we’ll be heard is by being louder. In this environment, what place is there for a whisper?
Try it for yourself and find out. Try it with a loved one, with your child, especially when you are imparting sensitive information that is sure to trigger them. Try it with someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
They will lean in to hear you. They will be more open to your words because a whisper is much less threatening. Because they will not have the excuse to ignore your words by focusing on your aggressive directness that you justify because you are right and they are wrong.
One thing: this whisper must come from a centered place; steeped in compassion and non-judgment, understanding that the recipient’s position is always genuine, despite what we may believe. From this gentle place, it is nothing short of amazing the inroads that can be made, even with the most resistant people.
Try it out with someone you always butt heads with. Pretend it’s a game. Refuse to play your usual part in the dysfunctional relationship by tapping into your empathy. This will prepare you for the inevitable unconscious attack that will come your way. When that happens, because you have anticipated this, you are prepared to not be triggered.
Instead of automatically returning matching fire, choose to lower your voice and be easy. It may take several occasions for this approach to shift a pattern. But often a small, yet profound, shift happens right away because every fibre of the other person is expecting to receive back what they are dishing out. What happens when they get something else? Something more kind, more gentle, more respectful, more caring?
Try it and find out. At the very least, you will feel better about your own behaviour. It’s personally healing to reduce our contribution to conflict and trauma. Beyond that, you might be amazed when you witness the other person, whose expectations have been turned on their heads, wondering what is going on. Suddenly, their defenses are lowered just a little.
Here lies the opportunity for connection. In this moment, the power of a compassionate whisper will become perfectly evident.
Personal evolution, including the dissolving of old blockages, generates excitement and hope, connecting us to who we are.
However, it’s good to be careful when sharing these fresh and fragile revelations with others, especially those who ‘know’ us; and who likely still reside in the place you suddenly no longer inhabit.
Seldom will you be understood or believed. It’s the rare person close to us who can bypass their own deep-seated biases and opinions of us in order to hear our truth – and vice versa.
And that’s okay since we can plainly see from our own lives that outer truth only becomes inner truth when it comes from within. When ego comes into contact with deep truths too early, especially from the outside, the immediate reaction will invariably and unconsciously be to reject it; to protect our unready hearts.
It’s understandable and beautiful that we want to share our elation with the world. But it behooves us to respect and safeguard our newly forged and tenuous connections with our hearts. It will take a while for us to integrate these new energies. Until then, if we are careless, we will allow others to unwittingly influence what they don’t see and feel; which may result in us undermining and abandoning that glorious spark from within that helps make sense of our existence; that connects us to peace and joy.
Joy. Some of us know it, cherish it and share it with others. Many of us only experience a fleeting glimpse here and there. But, it need not be so short-lived. So vanishing. We can slow down these moments. Stretch them out. Revel in them. At first, maybe, just for a few moments longer. Then for a few minutes longer. As with everything else we practice to get good at, it becomes easier to create and feel joy, even during hard times. We become familiar with joy. Make a safe space for it. Welcome it. Trust it. So joy can come out and play.