The Dance of Mindful Communication

 

“Lead us toward a speech, which is as beautiful as silence, and toward a silence, which is as beautiful as the sweetest and truest of words.” 
― Jean-Yves Leloup

As the holiday season approaches, many of us will soon find ourselves spending a lot more time engaged in social activities. Whether it’s the nudge to attend professional gatherings, or the swirl of events hosted by friends and family, the coming season provides robust opportunities to explore the practices of mindful communication.

We may be surprised to find when we begin to cultivate awareness within this sphere of our lives that we have routine ways of communicating which curtail our own self-expression or the self-expression of others. Mindful communication helps to bring awareness and choice into the process of dialogue so we can begin to break away from old habits that thwart understanding. This frees us to cultivate a style of relating that acknowledges our experience while allowing space for others to express themselves.

The Steps of Mindful Communication

There are three movements in the dance of mindful communication:

  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Embodiment (tuning into direct experience)

We are consciously toggling between these three movements when we are bringing present moment awareness into the exchange of communication.

Additionally, an important consideration to make within these movements of listening, speaking and embodiment, is staying aware of the intentions we bring to the mix. When we are clear about, and cognizant of our intentions, they become the source of navigation for our behavior and are a compass for our moment-to-moment choices. This clarity can help us stay committed to skillful action when moments of challenging communication arise.

Being Led: Listening

When we begin to directly attend to our exchanges with other people, it doesn’t take long to notice that most of the time we aren’t really listening to what the person in front of us is actually saying.  Oftentimes,  the mind is busy coming up with it’s retort to what is being said and we are just holding our tongue until we can find an opportune moment to slip our perspective into the conversation.

Mindful communication invites us to buck this trend and instead deeply attend to listening to the other person. We are not listening to respond, but rather listening to hear and understand. We are curious and interested in what the other person has to say. If we are inclined to speak, it is to ask questions and inquire further about the nuances of what is being shared.

Are we able to notice the moments when personal thoughts and judgements arise? Can we notice when we’ve slipped away from listening and return to being present to what is being shared?

Taking the Lead: Mindful Speaking

When it is our turn to share, we bring attention to, and take responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings, behavior and speech. If our intention in speaking is to cultivate a warm and honest exchange, there are five check-points we can screen our inclination to speak through before sharing with another:

  • Is what we want to share true?
  • Is it kind?
  • Will it be beneficial to the conversation?
  • Is it necessary to share for the sake of building understanding?
  • Is the timing right to say it?

These pass-throughs can be helpful, especially when we are feeling uncertain about whether what we are first inclined to say is in keeping with our intentions for the conversation.

Embodiment: Staying Centered

Whether it’s a dance or communication partnership, it’s important to maintain a sense of balance throughout. Our embodiment (being aware of felt sensations in the body, thoughts and emotions that are arising moment-to-moment) anchors us to the present moment and provides a point of orientation as we are in dialogue with another person. It is here that we can best identify our personal experience and monitor how we are internally responding in the process of communication.

Are we able to notice when we are open and receptive or when we’ve closed ourselves off to another? Can we be aware of thoughts and emotions without being carried away by their content?

Communication affords us a unique opportunity to practice mindfulness in an informal, yet powerful way. When we are able to intentionally direct our attention to the many nuances of listening and speaking, we open ourselves to seeing into another’s world and allowing someone to see into ours. Building our capacity to attend to what we are internally experiencing in moments of communication can help us stay anchored to the present moment and aware of the quality of flow within the conversation.

Being seen and understood is a fundamental drive of every human being. As we approach the season of giving, may we all recognize the gift of authentic and heartfelt communication.

 

This article was originally published through the Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness found at this link.