The Power of Listening & Non-Verbal Communication
I used to sail competitively. My hobby for sailing became more serious and I was at the point of sort of choosing between fully committing to sailing or to simply do other things. When my coach pushed or encouraged me to go to the next level, I remember thinking there's more to life than just sailing for me... for instance, I wanted to be a dolphin trainer!
I've always had this love for dolphins. There was this internship program at a place called Island Dolphin Care, a dolphin therapy facility in Key Largo, Florida that I had been looking at for a few years. Because I was in school, I wasn't able to apply for the dates, but finally on my year off, I applied and got in! This experience was unreal, the dolphins were treated very well, and it was pretty obvious they enjoyed being around humans. For example, at lunch time, I would sit alone by the edge of the water, and even though the dolphins had so much room to swim in the ocean, they would spend the full thirty minutes swimming in the area where I was sitting. Circling around with one eye out of the water... I felt their curiosity and maybe they felt mine?
Island Dolphin Care is a facility that hosts children with special needs and their families from around the world. They offer weekly programs, where the children are able to swim with a dolphin and a therapist every day for 5 days. Over time, the goal is that the dolphins help these children find the courage within to move beyond daily obstacles.
The dolphins knew just what to do and when to do it. If someone was screaming, the dolphin would be gentle. If someone was really excited and laughing, the dolphin would swim faster and be more playful from the get-go. I remember one child had his fist closed so tight all day, everyday and over the 5 days, the child learned to relax his hands... stuff like that. I was told that one time a mother came to the facility with her child, she was in the water and the dolphins were acting funny. The dolphin trainer asked if the mother was pregnant and she replied "not that I am aware of". Turns out she was pregnant and didn't know it. Island Dolphin Care also hosts veterans, many with PTSD, and you could see how the dolphin experience created a calmness for this group of people. The veterans seemed to be able to find pure joy in the present moment.
Why am I telling you about my secret passion for dolphins? Well fellow humans, I think we have a lot to learn from dolphins. EMOTIONS & BODY LANGUAGE & CURIOSITY. Sometimes I wish I could echolocate just like these amazing creatures... Dolphins can see through the bodies of their friends, which allows them to see heart rate and muscle tone, which provides complex information about the emotions of others. They know how to swim and move, according to the other's emotional state.
When interacting with humans, instead of using facial expressions and speech, they use body language and postures. Wait... Pause for a second, and lets reflect on all this.
If a dolphin can help a child with Autism relax his hands from a clenched fist or motivate a veteran with PTSD to see joy and happiness again, all without speaking, what does this even mean?! Are we doing it all wrong here or what?
Sometimes we don't need to say much. Sometimes its about listening to the verbal and non-verbal communication of others that allows us to understand their story. Listening with curiosity and empathy is something that we can all practice. When working with people who suffer from chronic pain, this is not only part of the evaluation but also part of the treatment.
I am inspired by a dolphin's...
Curiosity in the other
Patience, Empathy & Ability to sense the other's emotions
Ability to adjust their behavior to make the other feel more at ease & comfortable
That's Bob in the picture. Bob is the best.
Here is a video about Island Dolphin Care if you are curious... its quite long, but if you're in the mood watch until the end.