Saturday, 9 February 2013

Heart Centered Listening

By James Kyle


The young man rushed into the room slamming the door behind him. The frosted-glass window pane of the door shook from the force of the vented anger.

“Late again,” he ranted at himself “Damn. My half hour is almost up before we have even started. I am paying far too much for these sessions as it is.” His eyes locked on the clock on the consulting room wall directly opposite the door. The black hands on the white wall clock face indicated twelve minutes past two. It almost seemed he was trying to use his willpower to convince the timepiece that there had been some mistake here and that just for once he was on time. He continued staring at the clock as his rage continued.

“Why is my life so bloody stressful? I just seem to be running from one appointment to the next. My every minute controlled by organizers, alarms and clocks - all for the greater glory of a company that doesn’t give a damn. I am paid to work forty hours a week you know. There’s a joke. Paid for forty and know I would be out of a job if I didn’t work seventy. I hate that bloody company. How am I supposed to have a social life? No wonder I go home at night to an empty apartment. I’m bloody exhausted by the time I get there anyway. The only use I would have for a partner would be for somebody to make my bedtime drink before tucking me in at night. That and making sure I got out of bed each morning before the battery in my alarm clock ran out. I shave with my eyes shut you know. I am still sleeping even though I am standing there in front of the bathroom mirror. It’s incredible what I put myself through. Why do I have to live like this, working at a job I hate? OK, OK, so they pay me a lot of money - but is it worth it?”

The man stood in silence for a while. A temporary calm after the storm. He finally turned his gaze from the clock and directed his attention towards the seats against the wall to his right for the first time. This was evident as he looked with a start at the older woman sitting in one of the two seats at the far end of the office.

“What’s this? My usual guy on holiday or something? Well, what the hell, let’s see if you are any better that the other three before you.”

In stark contrast to the man’s agitation the woman sat quietly. Her face was composed in a calmness that took the sting out of the anger and bitterness in the man’s voice.

A little more subdued he continued, “Anyway I am John …” He stopped short, “Well you’ll know that from my records anyway. That and the fact that I have been coming here for six months and paying you guys a lot of money to sort out my life.” He paused as he walked across the room to sit in the chair opposite the woman. “Here I am then - sitting in the client’s chair waiting for you to empower me. Or whatever it is you’re supposed to do.”

The woman continued to sit calmly looking at the young man.

“Have I got the right buzzword? Emmmmpower yourself. Yep, it does buzz nicely. Where was I when they decided to hand out all this power? All I know is that I am the one at the bottom of the heap. Everyone else tells me what to do. I have a whole office full of people whose only job as far as I can see is to tell me what to do. I am the token Indian servicing a dozen chiefs. I do the work while they play office politics and have meetings to plan meetings where they will talk about the best way to hold meetings. It all seems so meaningless: life, work - same thing really - and it all seems so pointless.”

He paused lost in his own thoughts for some time. Eventually he looked over at the woman, “If you were me what would you do?”

The woman made no attempt to respond to the question.

“Oh I forgot. We do non directive therapy here. Of course! The client must take responsibility for his own life. Don’t you think it is ironic that I agree to pay you lots of money not to give me advice. Do I get a discount if you ever give me some advice by mistake?”

This brought a fleeting smile to the man’s face. The woman responded to this change of demeanor by smiling in turn. Her bright face underlined the subtle change of mood.

“OK, OK, I know it helps to see the funny side of life now and again. But it can be so difficult at times … Damn, there I go again, playing the victim. Right, I know, I can see it in your face. Why don’t I take responsibility? Isn’t that what I am supposed to do? So OK, it’s true I choose to go to work. Why? To make money to pay the bills. So where does that get us? I choose to work because I need to bring in money to pay the bills.” He paused to look at the woman’s reaction before continuing. “I see you are not impressed by my reasoning so far. You have bullshit written all over your face. And it’s true - I don’t need the money, I have plenty of money in savings. So why do I drag myself to that bloody office every day?”

The woman held her gaze on the young man’s eyes. He paused for a few moments then, seemingly gathering strength from her steadiness, he continued, “I just realized. I just do it because I am supposed to. Nobody ever told me that I could choose not to. I put myself through that hell every day just because I have internalized some stupid rule that people should hold down a steady job. Damn. It’s that simple. I really can give myself permission to choose to ignore rules that don’t serve me.”

He smiled across at the woman, “You lot finally got through to me. I am even starting to talk like you.”

The woman once more returned his smile then, for the first time since he had sat down, looked away from the young man’s face to look across to the clock on the wall. Her stare drew his attention to the clock face as the minute hand clicked downwards indicating 2.30 pm.

“Ah yes, time up,” he said rising from his chair. “I want to thank you so much. I got more out of this one session, than all of the previous six months’ put together.” The young man then reached over and put out his hand. The woman’s eyes smiled warmly as she shook his hand firmly.

The man stood up and crossed the room towards the door. The woman had a bemused look on her face as she observed him open the door then close it behind him. Through the frosted glass of the door she could see a second person come towards the door at the same time. The newcomer paused before opening the door himself; seemingly exchanging a few words with the man just leaving.

As he entered the room he looked very quizzically at the woman still sitting in her chair. “What was that all about?” he said, rhetorically at first, then he signed the same question to the woman. The woman signed back - I’m not sure. I arrived early for my appointment with you and I was just sitting here waiting for you when the guy that just left came bursting into the room. At first I was confused and a bit frightened … you know I can’t lip read at all well and I really didn’t know what was going on … but as he calmed down I realized that he was the one that was frightened and he just needed someone to be there for him … so I just sat here with him as he talked. The woman paused a moment before continuing. Did he say something to you as he was leaving?

Oh yes - it seems I have some competition. According to him you are the best counselor in the clinic. The man smiled as he continued signing, he said you really knew how to listen.