“At some point (sometimes) in the listening process it seems like the speaker is merely going in circles. That is, s/he is just continuing (wallowing?) in their ‘story.’ To simply continue listening, at that point, feels like I am being of little service; rather, maybe even being an enabler.
“Many teachers have helped me the most by choosing not to listen when ‘my story’ becomes too long winded….since this can keep me further entrenched in the illusion.
“So, while I do hugely value listening, I wonder how these approaches are compatible.”
In my experience, if the person is going in circles, they’re either trying to get what lies at the heart of the vasana (archaic and obsolete reaction pattern born of earlier traumatic incidents) and are having difficulty or they wish to be fed back to before they move on (perhaps because what they’re saying is important and they don’t want us to overlook it or perhaps because they need to know we’re listening before they reveal more). They may be hovering on the brink of plunging into the heart of the matter.
Repetition could signal an important juncture reached. Shall I trust this listener or not? Dare I venture into deeper waters? The worst thing they may fear is that they’ll go deep and we’ll stand up and say “Time’s up!”
We can always ask: “Is there significance to the fact that you’re repeating yourself? Is it something I should not miss noticeing?”
Every sentence a person says when talking about an unwanted condition or vasana can be treated as a chapter heading with a lot more under it if we’ll listen. But we need to demonstrate that we’re listening to the speaker; hence, appropriate feedback is essential. We need to demonstrate that we’re there for them and that we’re committed to getting to the bottom of the upset.
It could also be that the speaker is putting out an organizing principle, usually a metaphor, that they’re not sure is an organizing principle and so they’re waiting for us to respond to it. Or they may not get the significance of the point but sense that it’s significant in some unknown way (and so they repeat and repeat).
Example: J: “In Newfoundland, we’d go into the sea and it was so cold that we’d just get our feet wet and immediately come out.” Steve: “Is that how you are in relationship?” (Aha moment follows. The truth has set her free.)
I treat everything a person says in a listening session as significant. If it isn’t, when the person sees I’m listening that way, they usually leap at the opportunity and go deeper anyways. I observe and may remark on body posture, hand, face and bodily gestures, pattern of rising and falling intonation, emphases, slang, everything. Never in an obtrusive manner, but with gentle questions, which I quickly abandon if offense is taken. And not so much feedback that I redirect them away from what they’re wanting to say.
I know that the conventional wisdom is not to listen to story. But what we’re offering the other is a chance to lay everything on the table so they can see the whole depth and breadth of their situation and what it guards them from, fosters in them, loses them, wins them, etc. Somewhere in there is an “Aha!”
When I counseled people using Problem-Solving Therapy, most did not listen to me. They simply wanted to tell their story. So why fight it? Somewhere in the story lies the key to release. And it’s vastly easier and more efficient than to keep coming up with solutions nobody wants.
So I don’t support the view that we shouldn’t listen to story. Most people who advise against listening to story, I think, are saying they don’t feel they have time to listen long. If they don’t, I question whether their listening will be effective. Rushing listening diminishes its value.
Story has been formed out of the vasana and constitutes the breadcrumbs that will lead them and us out of the deep, dark forest. We just have to be adept enough to work with it and committed enough to stay with it.
The reward is great. And they will seldom get the same opportunity or results from a practitioner who uses the fifty-minute hour.
PS. Back then I didn’t know how to source a vasana. But now I might say: “Ask your mind to send you up a picture of what earlier, similar situation this present incident relates to and take the first image you get.” The mind is an obedient servant and will send up an image, often fast, so we need to grab it as it passes by.
Then I would ask them to tell me about that incident, how they feel, etc. That incident is usually at the heart of the vasana.