Over the past year, I have been unable to get to sleep until four o’clock in the morning. A few weeks ago, therefore, I decided to book an hour’s appointment with a recommended hypnotherapist.
On arrival he gave me an introductory talk and then asked why I was there. When I told him that my insomnia was due to the death of my companion of 54 years, he said ‘I am sorry to hear that’ and then resumed his set speech, asking me to lean back and close my eyes. After 40 minutes or so I opened my eyes and said, ‘This isn’t working – I feel deluged, saturated with words, I can’t take any more!’ and I quietly left.
I could not help thinking of Brother Gregory, a Franciscan friar I knew, who was once asked by the headmaster of a big public school if he would see a ‘troubled’ boy from a wealthy family who was into drugs and had various anti-social problems. Brother Gregory saw him and about two weeks later received a letter from the headmaster saying, ‘I don’t know what you said to the boy, but he is totally transformed.’
Brother Gregory turned to me. ‘I didn’t say a single word!’ he smiled.
Clearly, however, the intensity and quality of his listening had acted as a mirror for the boy, in which he was able to see himself and articulate his own problems.
This also reminded me of an episode recorded by the distinguished psychotherapist, Anthony Storr. He tells how he once had a woman patient who asked if they might sit quietly together. He agreed. He could have read a book or looked out of the window but he chose instead to share the silence with her. At the end of fifty minutes she rose with a smile, thanked him and said, ‘That has been one of the best sessions ever!’ Clearly in that shared silence something clicked within her.
‘There is a time for words, and there is a time for silence.’ Meditation can help to activate the inner ear as well as the inner voice. It can make us better at knowing when to speak – and when to listen.