Following up on the energy post, I also learned a valuable lesson about the difference between being “positive” and positive energy. For most of my life I struggled to make sense of people who pretended to be positive, optimistic when I knew at night they struggled to sleep because of the negativity trapped inside of them. I know this because I spent twenty years talking to people after the world went to bed, people wishing they could find enough inner peace just to get some sleep. From 10 pm until deep into the night, I would listen to folks.
What surprised me was how nice they were, how seemingly positive they were during the day, only to find out the other side of them on the phone when their walls came down and their struggle came rushing out. You name it, I’ve heard it. I came to know what evil at least sounded like– things I never believed possible from my own experiences were happening to people I knew well or had happened to them before I met them.
And it wasn’t until I let go of my own beliefs and upbringing that I could really listen without judging them. People have described me as safe meaning they knew I would not judge them. Maybe they wanted my help, but often times not. They just wanted a safe place.
In the movie Seven Pounds, Will Smith starts a relationship with Rosario Dawson. At one point, she is in the hospital because her heart has given out and she is scared. Will Smith talks to her on the phone, telling a dumb story to make her laugh, but then realizes all she wants is to know he’s there, to make the fear go away and he says the perfect thing, something I have never said but done many times. He tells her he will stay on the phone with her until she falls asleep.
Positive energy is not bubbly. It is not hyperactive and does not always smile. Positive energy is simply energy that does work. It moves the ball down the field. Powerful energy is energy that does this well, often in a way that renews it.
Sometimes the most powerful energy is the energy that confronts the fear instead of disguising it. Powerful, positive energy is well informed. It knows what to do and how to do it well…and you have to look closely to understand it as energy.
Sometimes, the most powerful energy simply creates the space to fall asleep in a safe place. As one of my best friends who is a heart surgeon told me “People won’t let you care for them until they know you care about them.” Listening can be the most powerful use of energy there is. I have talked with colleagues who I know to be great listeners and one lesson we all learned was how engaging it is to listen…and how exhausting it can be in a peaceful way. Energy given to others by listening is never energy given away.
Maybe Joseph Campbell said it best:
The central point of the world is where the movement and stillness come together. Movement is time, but stillness is eternity. Realizing this moment of your life is actually a moment of eternity.”
Listening is sharing your stillness with someone. Listening is that moment of eternity in a noisy world.