There is a simple and powerful practice to improve your communications and capacity to be mindful. It is, quite simply…
to pause before you speak and consider how you feel about what is going in the moment. Don’t stop reading here. This deceptively simple suggestion has profound power.
How it really works
Usually, suggesting this is met with a flurry of objections. “That would be weird”. “People will think I’m strange, angry, manipulative, deceitful” or a variety of other colorful reactions, but experience with this is quite contrary to this.
Most people in the course of a lifetime have met a few people who listened carefully and responded thoughtfully. What was that person’s communication style like? What was the specific behavior they presented that led you to conclude they were being thoughtful in their response? Frequently, when engaging someone like that, the conversation slows down a bit as it becomes clear after a while that you’re not engaged in a “normal” conversation, that is to say, an automatic back and forth. When one person brings more presence and thoughtfulness to a conversation, the other person, if they perceive it, will often respond in kind.
In other words, rather than being perceived as weird, or controlling, when you engaged in the practice of being thoughtful and mindful about a conversation, it is generally considered kindly. Why? Because underneath it is there is an implicit assertion – “I care enough about you and this conversation to attend to you carefully”. And, in fact, I would encourage you to actually express that caring in words when it is true.
Start by just slowing it down. I have been known to say to my family and others “I need for this to slow down” when things start to get too revved up for me to track, and it’s important. Why slow it down? So you can interrupt the process of being automatic. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. You will make great strides in being present and mindful in communications if you can “bring to the table” a clear intention to practice slowing things down – not for the sake of it, but so you have time enough to notice what’s going on for you AND the other others involved. In addition, you model to others what it’s like to have clear asks and demonstrating intentionality when communicating.
Another technique that is not so obvious to others is to simply take a breath before responding and while you do, simply “feel” into the space of what’s going on now. How are you feeling about what’s going on now? – concern? Happy? Confused? Contracted? Speed up? What are you moved to do next? Get more information? Express concern? Ask for a hug 😉
The point isn’t that there is a right thing to do here, but rather, to simply notice what you are feeling and have that inform how respond – RESPOND being the key word, and then take an action.
For example, you are on a walk with a friend of yours. They are talking about something unhappy that happened to them. You are having a normal conversation and it occurs to you that you can be more mindful and present. They are still talking about their experience but you listening more deeply now, and you see in their eyes the sadness they have. Rather than say anything at all. You turn to them and just give them hug and hold them for a minute and say “I’m sorry that happened to you”. They stop talking and just cry for a minute. You both feel a lot better, and closer.
In this simple example which happens many times a day somewhere in the world, you made the decision to get deeper by being more present. That immediately brings more opportunity into the moment because you are able to see and hear more of what’s happening right in front of your eyes (ears and heart), but you just missing before. It’s all there. You just have to pay attention, and one way to make space for quality attention is by intentionally slowing things down a bit.
So far, I’ve offered two techniques for slowing things down – taking a breath and slowing things down (pacing). Another, more dramatic but useful technique can be used in specific situations. There are times when a conversation comes to a critical moment or juncture and what you say next matters. These moments have a special intensity about them you feel. There is a sense of a turning point that hinges on what you are about to say. First, you have to have enough presence to notice this is happening. When it does, do not hesitate to ask for the time you need to get yourself into a state of BEING so that what you DO comes from the right place. (Let what you do flow from a place of being, then what you do is much more aligned with what is needed in the moment, as you are more aligned with yourself and the world)
In a moment like this I have been known to say “please, I need a moment to consider this, as I feel it’s important”. People frequently appreciate that you have the presence of mind to do this and at it has the added value of indirectly asking others to also be mindful. What you do in this pause is anything that works to get you to a clearer, balanced, and connected place inside. Perhaps you connect to a place of loving presence if that is available to you. Perhaps you connect to your care and concern about the people involved. Perhaps you simply breathe, and clear your thoughts for a moment and see what emerges. The point is to give yourself a chance to access resources and information consciously, that you would not normally be aware of. This in turn changes what becomes possible. What you do next is now (hopefully), better informed than before. At the very least, you have demonstrated that this conversation (and therefore the people in the conversation) matter to you enough that you are actively working to bring more of yourself to bear. There is no greater gift than showing up.
It’s really about science
Neurologically, this practice of intentionally slowing down or pausing is very important because you are training your brain to associate communication with mindfulness. At first, it feels very awkward – and that is exactly what you want. It’s exactly the state you want your brain to be in – learning something new. When you have that “this feels really weird” awkward sensation, it’s your brain telling you that neurons that don’t normally fire are firing. Neural networks that don’t normally associate are associating. That’s why it feels weird. That’s a very good thing.
Over time, and much faster than you think, that feeling goes away and is replaced with a state of high learning. It is uber-critical that you repeat this experience enough times that the neurology behind it becomes easier to fire. Eventually, the association between mindfulness and communications becomes much easier. Then when you choose to become more present, you go deeper, faster than before. Yes, you will still have automatic conversations, but fewer of them as some part of you is paying attention more fully and bringing more of you into more frequently than before. Relationships deepen as authentic communication becomes built into your everyday life. You become calmer and happier as you’re able to see a great deal more about other people and yourself than you did before and this is accompanied when done mindfully, but an emergent loving presence that informs it is embedded in your words and communicated to others. People start to say things to you like “I feel really heard when I talk to you”. “I feel like you really see me”. And – it’s true. You do really hear them. You do see them more clearly. And the world is better for it.