The 5 Principles of EAP
Principle 3 – Healing is Listening
Edith is a female character in the play The New England Tragedies, written in the 1860’s by American playwright, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Set in seventeenth-century Boston, Edith is a Quaker, who along with six other colleagues are about to be incarcerated and potentially executed as had happened to others in their religious community. At one point in the play, she delivers a lengthy monologue which includes the following:
Let us then labour for an inner stillness.
An inner stillness and an inward healing.
That perfect silence where the lips and the heart are still,
and we no longer entertain our own imperfect thoughts and vain opinions.
Longfellow perfectly understood this principle that healing is listening, and gives some great insight into what ‘listening’ really looks like. He describes it as the perfect silence, and then explains how that is achieved. He begins with the instruction that the lips and the heart are still. These are metaphors for the way our consciousness busies itself. The lips are symbolic of our incessant need to talk, and the heart, our unquenchable wants or desires. When we are constantly filled with thoughts that are bubbling up as words and spewing out of our mouths, it’s impossible to listen, to be aware. Listening in this context is really about our capacity to be aware and be mindful.
In terms of stilling the lips, Longfellow gives very clear instructions for what one does to achieve that: and we no longer entertain our own imperfect thoughts and vain opinions. The word entertain came from a Latin origin that meant to maintain or continue. He is saying that we must stop maintaining or continuing to have imperfect thoughts and vain opinions. When our head is filled with ‘imperfect thoughts’ our minds are closed off or are non-receptive. This literally means that it is impossible to be aware, because awareness is the capacity to be receptive to new knowledge. You can’t have ‘stuff’ go in while ‘stuff’ is flooding out.
A great tool for helping to stop the ‘stuff’ flooding out, which in this context is stilling the mind, is meditation. In Psychology Today, meditation is defined as “the practice of turning one’s attention to a single point of reference. It can involve focusing on the breath, on bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase, known as a mantra. In other words, meditation means pivoting away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment.” In medicine, that is akin to treating the symptom, which is great triage. But if the cause isn’t treated, the bleeding will continue. In the case of our imperfect thoughts and vain opinions, we have to find the cause, because they will persist, no matter how much meditation we do. Meditation manages it.
Imperfect thoughts include worry, fear of failure, judgements, self-loathing, and rejection to name just a few. Think about what your mind is entertaining when you don’t have to be focused on any one thing in particular. Would you let your daughter (if you had one) go out with or spend time with someone who thinks the way you do? The key here is to find out the cause of why you think the way you do. If you can ‘treat’ the cause then the need for meditation becomes more recreational and less medicinal. Longfellow even helps us with the answer to that question. It’s about the state of the heart, metaphorically speaking.
The heart is about what we treasure, or what we want or desire most. That being the case, he is suggesting that if you can transform what it is that you desire most, then inner stillness and inward healing is possible. For the majority of us what we desire most fits into four categories; acceptance, security, autonomy and worth. In our fearful minds we typically interpret these as being loveless or unloveable, never having enough money, being controlled by others, and feeling like you have no value. These are thoughts that have been with us most of our lives, and for many of us we learnt them from our parents. They have been programmed into our consciousness from infancy. The heart then, is focused on avoiding the suffering that accompanies this state of consciousness.
What we have observed at EAP is that everybody has a core narrative that was programmed though their formative years, that determines how they relate to acceptance, security, autonomy and worth. This narrative is responsible for our suffering and the physical, mental and emotional states of disease that arises from that suffering. Recalibrating the narrative is the primary focus of EAP, which like alchemy, is about finding the gold in the lead. In each person’s suffering can often be found really wonderful gifts and abilities that have been developed in order to survive. Instead of being defined by your narrative, you become inspired by it, and end up developing gratitude for it. It’s finding a meaningful way to use those gifts and abilities that resolves the suffering. Once the narrative has been identified and you can see how far reaching its impact is, then, and only then can it be changed. To be able to identify the narrative and it’s effect, you have to be listening, you have to stop the imperfect thoughts and vain opinions long enough to be more aware.
That is why our third principle states that healing is listening.
This Weeks Video
Read More From This Series on the 5 Principles of EAP
Part 1 – Your Body is a Symbol of Consciousness
Part 2 – You Can't Change What You Can't See
Part 4 – When Something Is Authentically Observed, It Changes
Part 5 - Transformation Happens Like A Ripple Across A Pond