I read the email and immediately felt stung by criticism. I tried to stay present to my reactions. I noticed my body sensations – the familiar block in my throat and tightness in my chest. Then I watched my thoughts and the stories that spun out in my head in response to the criticism. I watched the stories grow and noticed my emotions escalating. Without judging – just observing what was happening within – I stayed with the process – letting it play out without resisting anything. I paid close attention and observed each thought, each argument for or against me and for or against my critic. As I observed myself going over and over the same thoughts and arguments, I decided to move my focus to compassion for myself. Then I focused on compassion for my critic and her vulnerabilities.
I felt better.
Feeling better and calmer, I decided to review exactly what my critic said. Luckily the criticism was in writing, so I didn’t have to rely on my memory. As I reread the words I realized they didn’t have to be read as criticism at all. What the heck? That’s fascinating! I had been certain that I was being criticized the first time I read the email. So what changed?
What changed was my filter. Apparently the first time I read the email I heard the words through the filter of “I’m not enough and I let you down;” when instead I could’ve heard through the filter of, “This person appreciates me so much they would love more of whatever I’m able to give. Cool! I feel so valued.”
Contemplating the email further I realized that this person cares about me and therefore it’s important she shares with me what she needs. Right now she needs lots of compassion because she’s struggling. She’s asking for my help. When I hear the email like that, my heart melts and I imagine throwing my arms open and wrapping her in a warm embrace. I feel filled and overflowing with love for her.
Perception is everything. I can’t know for sure what someone else intends to communicate. But I can be aware of my own filters that tend to color my perceptions of what’s said. It’s easy and habitual to lead with my wounds, but so much more rewarding to lead instead with an open heart. What if I heard everything through the filter of my heart?
Questions To Ponder
- Have you ever been a witness to an interaction between two people where one of the two felt they were being criticized or shamed, but you didn’t hear one word of criticism?
- Are you aware of any filters you hear through that tend to color what you perceive? If so, are the filters usually in your favor or against you?
- Have you ever tried to hear through your heart?