You might begin: "I'm at a loss here because I don't know what to do. And I can't even imagine how difficult this is for you. Still, I've come because I want you to know that I care about you, and you are not alone. No matter what happens, or what you're feeling, I love you. Please tell me what is happening for you now." Then listen as your friend expresses who he is and how he is feeling. And you must listen with your whole being, not just your ears. Listen with your body, your heart, your eyes, your energy, your total presence. Listen in silence, without interrupting. Fill any spaces of silence between you with love, with silent permission for the other person to go on and to go deeper. Once in a while, perhaps, ask a question to draw your friend out even further: "What else are you going through; what else is happening in your life right now? What are you thinking about as you go through this difficulty? What's the hardest part of this for you? What is your biggest fear?"

Give space for his answers and acknowledge his pain. Don't immediately jump in with your stories or brilliant ideas. Silently acknowledge your rising thoughts and feelings, and continue to be there for him. Focus on what he is communicating on every level-through his body, his expression, the tone of his voice, his energy and his words. Listen to what is said and also to what was not said, yet implied. Validate the feelings he has expressed, and through your intuition and questions, slowly draw out even more of his thoughts or needs.

You might reflect back to your friend: "This must be very hard. You are going through a great difficulty right now, do you realize that? As I listen to you, I feel your distress, your sorrow, your frustration or fear. This must be really, really hard. Whatever you are feeling is perfectly understandable, given the circumstances you are facing."

After encouraging your friend to describe his deepest fears, angers, regrets or sadness, you can acknowledge his pain and let him know that it may take a while for it to diminish. By fully listening to and accepting your friend's pain, you help him accept himself and his present condition, thus alleviating a great deal of the emotional suffering that can result from guilt or harsh self-judgment.

Christine Longaker in The Wisdom of Listening by Mark Brady