Creating Community Part 2: Tzimtzum and Empathic Listening

Creating Community Part 2 by Jay FeldAccording to the sixteenth century Jewish mystic Isaac Luria, when God decided to create the world, since He filled the entire universe, He found it necessary to withdraw Himself. Without this process of creative withdrawing, which Luria called tzimtzum, “there would have been no room for anything finite or separate to exist, for all would have been obliterated by the immense light of the infinite” (from Estelle Frankel, Sacred Therapy). God literally had to make room for the universe to exist!

Have you ever been in relationship with someone who seems to suck up all the oxygen in the room and leaves precious little emotional space for you? In the presence of such people, the experience of community becomes very difficult. True community should be “big enough” for each and every individual. Everyone gets to be accepted, honored and welcomed for precisely who they are – “Come on in, we’re glad you’re here!

An essential skill for the creation of “big enough” relationships is empathic listening. Author and professor David Augsburger has said, “Being heard is so close to being loved as to be almost indistinguishable.

In The Secret of Staying in Love, John Powell writes,

Presence and availability are the essence of love. I must be free (available) to leave my own self and selfish concerns to go out to you in a total readiness to listen and to be concerned (presence). While I am listening to you, you become the center of my world, the focus of my attention. My availability supposes that I am not so filled with my own emotions that I cannot leave them and listen with deep empathy to you and to your feelings. Wrenching free from the narcissism of self-preoccupation, especially when my emotions are painful, is difficult. However, it is a vital necessity for true listening and true dialogue.

When parents listen lovingly to their baby’s every coo and gurgle, without any expectation of understanding, but with full and unconditional acceptance, the baby begins to internalize the strong message, “There’s room enough for me here!” When we practice tzimtzum we are trying to look past categories of right/wrong or agreement/disagreement, past all evaluation and judgment, and listen non-judgmentally to those around us, not so much hearing their words with a microphone, but hearing their heart with a stethoscope. We are trying to see through their carefully constructed personalities and defense mechanisms and listen for the cry of their heart:

“Do I matter to you? Do you see me, hear me, really ‘get’ me? Will I be safe with you? Will you accept me? Is it OK that I’m here? May I stay here?”

This is how therapists try to listen to and care for their clients. This is how I try to help clients listen to their own hearts, and listen to their loved ones. Therapy is about the holy art of tzimtzum, helping you create and nurture relationships that are “big enough” for everyone involved.

Are you curious about tzimtzum and creating “big enough” relationships? Please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me directly.

Jay R. Feld HeadshotDr. Jay R. Feld
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
(917) 572-4068

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