The Secret Is Out: How to Improve Any Relationship

muslimcouple“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”

There is a simple way to improve any relationship. And it’s called listening. I don’t mean listening while you are formulating your response, or listening but assuming you already know what is going to be said, or listening while you are answering an email or watching TV.

I mean listening – with openness, with curiosity, with your heart wide open. When you show up as empty, aware presence, miracles happen.

I recently sat with a client who was sharing some difficult feelings. I automatically went into fix-it mode, offering suggestions to help her move through the pain, and she thankfully resisted every one. “Just relax,” I told myself.

I turned away from any need to save or help, and softened into the vast space of being that allows everything as is. As I followed her lead, supporting her exploration, her own connection with infinite wisdom guided her to exactly what she needed to know.

I got out of the way and listened.

How to Be Present

Living as aware presence in our relationships is so rare. It asks us to slow down, to put aside our opinions and dilemmas, to inhabit questions rather than answers. It is an offering we can make that is free, available, and holds the potential for so much healing.

We melt any personal barriers, which creates the space for true intimacy, where we meet in the one heart of love. Deep listening is one of the most loving things you can do for another.

As aware presence, we arrive to our interactions clear and clean. We are empty of our:

  • Needs
  • Stories
  • Beliefs
  • Desires
  • Expectations
  • Judgments
  • Hopes

We are filled only with loving space that receives, that wants to know.

Being There for Another

Imagine being this space with your partner or child or parent. You erase everything that has happened in the past, and you see the person before you as if for the first time. You might wonder:

  • What is important to you?
  • What are your fears?
  • What do you need?
  • What thrills and elates you?
  • What is your experience in this moment?
  • What else would you like to say?

And you listen to each response with rapt attention. “Oh, I see, it’s like that for you.” You are perfectly in rapport, accepting the other unconditionally. You are empty, aware presence.

Have a conversation like the one I am describing and let me know if your heart doesn’t break open.

Now take this way of being to your workplace, your gym, your neighborhood, the post office and grocery store. Can you open your heart to everyone you meet – no separation, no distance?

You Have the Power to Be the Healing Balm

In this day and age, many of us feel alienated from ourselves. We crave attention, control, and security to assuage our fears. We strategize to get what we want from others because we resist meeting our deepest feelings.

The result is a painful lack of intimacy that keeps us isolated. We long to be accepted for who we are, but fear being rejected if we were to reveal the whole truth about ourselves. This is the root of all our relationship struggles.

Loving presence is the healing balm. When you are empty and aware and offer others your unconditional interest, the walls begin to crumble. There is a return to wholeness, acceptance, and clarity and a welcome sense of relief from no longer having to maintain a protective vigil. You and the apparent other relax into the space where you meet as love.

My challenge to you is to take one interaction – with anyone – and show up as empty, aware presence. Ask questions from a place of curiosity, and let the answers drop all the way into your loving heart. It doesn’t have to be a heavy discussion.  An everyday, seemingly superficial interaction or one with a stranger is the perfect place to start.  You will make someone’s day, I promise you.

And you are likely to find what I have discovered – intimacy, connection, happiness, a heart overflowing.

I’d love to hear how it goes…

Note:  I am honored to have been asked to write a chapter in Leo Babauta’s new book, Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction.  My chapter addresses how to overcome fears of focusing.  I don’t receive anything if you buy the book, but you will undoubtedly benefit from tons of  practical suggestions that support a sane and happy life in these crazy, overstimulating times we live in.  I highly recommend it.

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  1. says

    I love how this focuses on being and not doing. I think many of us get caught in this trap of trying to fix, help and change people when most all of the time what they really need is for you to “be” there…all there, open heart at the ready. Lovely, lovely post filled with gentle nudges in the right direction. Thanks for that. :)
    .-= Clearly Composed´s last blog .. Will You =-.

    • Gail Brenner says


      “Being there” with others, open-hearted, is so huge. We can not underestimate the healing and transformative power of this level of presence. And I am guessing that you know exactly what I mean, as I can feel you “being here” through your words.

  2. Rand says

    “An everyday, seemingly superficial interaction or one with a stranger is the perfect place to start. You will make someone’s day, I promise you.”

    I can’t help but remember how my brother John was regards interaction with perfect stangers. He was mentally challenged, schizophrenic, and so innocent. The connection he could make with perfect strangers with his open heart and big smile…and yes some of the silly things he would say to a stranger would bust one up with laughter.

    Gail, I took Helen Fisher’s ‘Personality Test’. You can easily figure that I lean towards an Explorer/Negotiator. Do you give her studies much validity?

    When you said: “Living as aware presence in our relationships is so rare.”
    Assuming her Chemical/Personality studies are correct. Is it not easier for some and harder for others to ‘live as aware presence’? The chemical inbalance of my brother John’s schizophrenia… do you think it made him less inhibited and more open?

    I believe I know what you may have tested out at.

    This post will hopefully re-new a loving presense of listening that I have put away somewhere.
    Om shanti

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Rand,

      I love this: “This post will hopefully re-new a loving presence of listening that I have put away somewhere.” May that loving presence of listening be felt everywhere.

      Aware presence is more available for some people than others, although the potential is for all of us to know and be this completely. What blocks it is conditioning – identification with thought patterns, drama, beliefs, needs, strategies. As these fall away, presence is revealed. So are schizophrenic people more open and less inhibited? Possibly, but I don’t know for sure. It certainly sounds like your brother was very heart-centered, in an uninhibited way. Beautiful.

      I’m not familiar with the work of Helen Fisher.

      Be well….

      • Rand says

        “We long to be accepted for who we are, but fear being rejected if we were to reveal the whole truth about ourselves.”

        Emily Dickinson

        Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
        Success in Circuit lies
        Too bright for out infirm Delight
        The Truth’s superb surprise
        As Lightning to the Children eased
        With explanation kind
        The Truth must dazzle gradually
        Or every man be blind—
        The Props assist the House
        Until the House is built
        And then the Props withdraw
        And adequate, errect,
        The House support itself
        And cease to recollect
        The Auger and the Carpenter—
        Just such a retrospect
        Hath the perfected Life—
        A past of Plank and Nail
        And slowness—then the Scaffolds drop
        Affirming it a Soul.

        Can we also use the words “Truthful Presence”?

        Truth be known… In Gods eyes I’am only a child.

  3. marilee says

    Thank you, Gail! I am taking on the challenges you have presented here, to show up as loving presence for another, getting out of the way to let love happen. “Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense”. (Thanks for the Rumi!)

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Melinda,

      I would never have thought of this post as a description of coaching, but if this is what coaches do, hold a space of loving presence, then I am all for it. What a beautiful way to be with people, an offering that supports deep and authentic exploration. I see the fruits of this often in my own work and life in general.

      Thank you so much for adding this perspective.

    • Rand says

      Thanks Melinda and Gail,

      This pretty much answers my question regards to “Truthful Presense”. “Authentic Exploration”…same thing.

      Yes this quality was so important to have for all the YMCA Youth Soccer teams that I coached. Some of the kids came from pretty tough life situations for being such young little people. They would see right through anything not genuine.

      About one month ago I helped operate a small two day general session meeting for Sony. Their guest speaker was Kelly Inouye-Perez, the head softball coach for UCLA. She is one “Authentic” “Loving Presense” person. While I was removing some wireless hand-held mics from the stage she stopped in the middle of what she was saying and helped me. Saying: “Let me help. We are all family here”. It got a big laugh, but also made an early “Truthful” statement…felt a loving presense…yes there was a “glow”.

  4. says

    Hi Gail,

    I finished the day of training I did on communication. It went fantastic. I found myself learning and practicing as I created my program. I read this today and know I have to keep moving forward on being a better listener. I have to arrive empty. I can so relate to the example you give with your client.
    .-= Tess The Bold Life´s last blog ..Courage Is A Beautiful Thing =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      I’m so glad it went well, Tess. Somehow I knew it would! Arriving empty – I love that. Then we are out of the way and nature can take its course, which it will do perfectly.

      Thanks so much for your good wishes about the chapter I wrote. Leo wrote a brilliant book – truly a manifesto for our time.

      Big love to you, Tess…

  5. says

    I’m a professional counselor, and I can struggle with this within sessions. I was recently at a training which involved practicing this open and unconditional listening. When it was my turn to share, it’s amazing how cared for I felt when the other person let go of his/her agenda and let me speak. This is such great information for all of us :)
    .-= Steve Borgman´s last blog ..Smart Goal Setting in 2011 =-.

    • Gail Brenner says

      Hi Steve. I’m glad you brought up the other side – what it feels like to be listened to with unconditional presence. We feel so cared for, which makes it easy to offer out to others.

      And it’s easy to get caught up in our own minds. So these reminders are useful – I appreciate you reminding me today. I’m at a large family event right now – with lots of opportunities to practice unconditional presence!


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