In order to talk about Compassionate Listening we must first clarify what is meant by the word compassion. Definitions of many words vary, but here we will use the word to refer to: "To share emotional experience with another; feeling for and understanding of the emotional experience of others; recognizing the similarity in how all beings experience suffering and how all share the wish for relief from suffering."

When you are offering any sort of session to one of your Buddies your are always listening to them and giving them your full attention, but in Compassionate Listening the emphasis on these actions increases. You spend less time talking and more time really trying to deeply hear and understand the other person's point of view. You may not always agree with what they are saying, but you never feel the need to express disagreement. The session isn't focused on helping them to "get it right" or even "see things accurately" the way a cognitive session might skillfully work its way towards. Instead the goal is to help the person who is calling for the session realize her own potential through self-directed growth that is supported by the presence of the loving attention of another person.

This loving attention, or compassion, removes the obstacle of self-criticism long enough that the caller can finally allow repressed thoughts and feelings to come to the surface for healing. Once consciously accessed the troubling material usually dissolves, just as light brought into a dark room simply removes the darkness and leaves only light. The person can then move forward, freeing her for normal growth and development.

Compassionate Listening emphasizes being fully present with the caller and helping her truly feel her own feelings, desires, etc. Being "nondirective" lets the caller deal with what he or she considers important, at his or her own pace. You let the caller guide the session and trust that she will cover what her inner guidance knows she most needs to focus on and bring into conscious awareness that day.

Typical peer counselor responses during a Compassionate Listening session would be: "I can hear that his saying that was painful for you." "It sounds like you are searching for understanding of what happened." "As you speak, I get a sense of just how [angry, sad, frightened, joyful, etc.] you say you were feeling."

Notice that each statement: 1) Acknowledges the caller's feelings as that person describes them without adding an additional interpretation from the peer counselor; 2) Speaks from the first person but refers to the feelings of the caller, not the peer counselor's feelings. This emphasizes how it is the caller's wisdom that is going to heal her, not the counselor's, and that the counselor is there to help the caller access and bring out that wisdom within the safety of a compassionate relationship.

Another important idea to keep in mind when offering a Compassionate Listening session is curiosity. Connect with your natural curiousity and your desire to really sense, hear, and feel what life is like for another person. You may learn a lot about yourself by learning about them, both in how you interpret life similarly and differently. There is no right interpretation for life. There is simply theirs and yours. Learning to really hear and honor both will be an incredible growth experience that will enhance many areas of your life.