People often tell me that, while their lives are good and everything seems fine on the surface, there is something not quite right. They know something is missing but they can't quite put their finger on it. A low level of discontent follows them through their days, leading to restless nights and an aching emptiness that cannot be filled with the busyness they have arranged on their calendars.
They may go to see a counselor to rid themselves of the discontent and emptiness by trying on new activities and ways of being, only to find themselves with the same old feelings and an equally full calendar. What often gets ignored is the message that discontent is trying to convey. What would happen if we took the time to listen to our discontent? Might it have some information for us about our inner longings and deepest dreams? We brush aside these longings and dreams for all kinds of reasons, and so the whispers of the soul go unheeded and unheard.
The Latin root word for respect is "respare," which means "To look again." I love this definition of respect because it invites an attitude of inquiry coupled with compassion. Just maybe my discontent has a voice that is asking me to pay attention to something important, something that diverges wildly from my normal, habitual, and conditioned ways of responding to life. When we listen to a friend and ask them clarifying questions, we invite a spirt of inquiry and compassion to the dialogue. We care about their wellbeing and want to understand who they are and what they are telling us. One of the kindest gifts we can give to another is our attention. Can we do the same for ourselves?