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Is there anything more nourishing than feeling truly heard and seen? Feeling that another person cares enough to glimpse into your soul and experience the essence of who you are? How does this happen?

When someone pays me that greatest compliment of all, that of listening to me, then I feel deeply nurtured. But listening, truly listening is a rare and precious jewel, and not to be taken for granted. Just because I speak does not mean I am heard. Just because I '"listen" does not mean I hear.

Once I learned to appreciate the value of being heard, I started paying close attention to the dynamics of human interaction and quickly realized what a gargantuan effort it takes to listen. It involves enormous leaps of selflessness; it involves consciously placing my own agenda on hold and being focused solely on the intricate workings of the other person's heart and mind.

I sometimes liken conversations to tennis matches. The first player has a thought and bats it across the net. The opponent makes his own play and bats it back. Each "play" starts with the word "I" and there is only a loose thread of connection between them, separated by the net. Each player is ensconced in his own mind shuffling through his file cabinet of ideas.

There are of course many times when small talk is entirely appropriate and times when information simply has to be shared, but these are not times when souls are being seen.

That is a different process and one I will try to describe here.

The process of really listening starts with having the intention of listening, which I do best when I, myself, am not feeling a pressing need to be heard. Then I can be present with someone else without my own issues screaming to get out.

I find the most effective initiating questions are the simple ones: "So, what's up for you in this moment?" "How are you feeling today?" These questions allow the conversation to go wherever the speaker desires, not where I want to lead it.

But the moment of their response is the instant where the magic is either made or lost. Invariably, as soon as my friend replies, my own mind leaps into action. I remember similar experiences, I want to help, offer advice, I have opinions. I could easily fill a good half-hour with my suggestions. But if — if — I can take a breath here, if I can quiet myself, if I can allow a moment of silence, then magic can happen. Then I can allow the shift from me back to them. Then I can start to hear.

And when my friend senses that I am there, when she feels my presence, she is able to step further into her truth and I can follow as she walks down the pathways of her being. Together we can create the gift of intimacy as she explores her reality.

I was recently lucky enough to be heard in this way. A dear friend listened to me for more than an hour as we made our weekly circuit of the park. My mind was brimming as I sought to make sense of my current situation. She listened intently and only when I paused did she venture to inquire if a question would be useful to my process. Then she reflected back to me things I had said that needed clarification. Even her questions did not introduce her own agenda, the intention being simply to get deeper into my meaning. When I was done, I stopped in my tracks and, with tears brimming, thanked her from the bottom of my heart for her incredible gift.

Sarah Swales, Certified Yoga Teacher, will be giving a workshop, "Nurture and Nourish" with Marla Estes, MA, on Friday, Oct. 26, and Saturday, Oct. 27. For more information, contact Marla at 541 482 4948 or marla16@charter.net.

What is Inner Peace? What has worked and what has been helpful. All aspects, such as intuition, guidance, courage, fearlessness, forgiveness, giving and receiving, joy, tolerance, faith, kindness, gratitude and overcoming life's challenges are welcome. Send 600- to 700-word articles to Sally McKirgan innerpeaceforyou@live.com.