Communicating with Mindfulness, Presence, and Intention
Communicating with Mindfulness, Presence and Intention
By Dr. Rachel Greenberg
I feel comforted knowing that I had the fortitude and fortune to enter into a profession that will likely invariably offer me job security. That is to say as long as human beings exist, the role of a psychologist or psychotherapist will probably remain an important component of helping fellow human beings work through, understand, experience, identify and dance with their inherent internal array of complexities. The intricacies of the human experience are vast, and endlessly require fine tuning, reflection and, perhaps most notably, expression. Our experience really comes to life when we’re able to express it, either to ourselves or in conversation or participation with another. Without this opportunity to express or communicate what it is we go through internally, we are so often left feeling blocked, stifled, withdrawn and isolated from an implicit need for an outlet and the deep and unwavering requirement to be understood, heard, and validated. When we show up to express ourselves in the context of interpersonal communication we encounter what can be a minefield of nuance, differences, narratives, intense personalization, fear, and history, and in that space lies the capacity for enriched and deepening connection, problem-solving and solution-finding, creative ideas, devastating disagreements, irreparable ruptures, or a more benign lack of productivity, understanding, or movement. The possibilities of what can occur when two people come together in discussion vary and consequences can range depending on how each person is coming to the other, with what set of intentions, what level of awareness, what type of agenda, and what degree of openness to dialogue and willingness to let go of righteousness for the sake of the outcome, connection in relationship, flexibility, development, and personal sense of integrity.
I often hear people struggle with the balance in communicating, particularly when it comes to sharing difficult feelings, or expressing needs, or asking for things to shift when in relationship with another. It can be hard to give someone feedback that you fear may be difficult for them to hear, and for some of us just feeling worthy enough of asking for what we need (assuming we know what that is) can elicit a parade of self-doubting thoughts that say “Don’t rock the boat,” or “Asking for what you need might expose you and that is too dangerous,” or “What you need isn’t important so don’t even bother.” We tend to already set ourselves up to struggle in conversation. And if we feel our basic sense of self is overlooked, unheard, misunderstood, or unconsidered when we do take the risk to share openly about our experiences with another, we can tend to feel even further shutdown or enraged, leading often to disengagement or defensiveness, blame or denial, and passivity or aggression. When these modes of communicating are present, any chance at creating movement or resolve will be stifled.
The wonderful and exciting thing about opening ourselves up to communication is that we can learn how to do it in ways that are most effective at helping us achieve what we universally seem to need and want to. Even if we were raised in cultures and environments that taught us a way of communicating that feels limiting for us now, or continues to keep us stuck in our own discontent, or continues to perpetuate challenges in our friendships, work relationships, or romantic partnerships, we can learn a new way to expressing what we experience inside ourselves to achieve whatever it is we’re needing to communicate. Whether it’s an outlet for grief, a need for more time with a partner, a feeling of invisibility with a parent, a feeling of disappointment in a friendship, an urge for more fulfillment, whatever it is we need to communicate, we can learn to do it in safe, healthy, growth-promoting ways that feel aligned with who we want to be.
When we choose to communicate mindfully, we come from a place of deep attunement to the other and to ourselves, and a stance of listening and expressing with presence. Often this means putting the phone away, clearing the space of any other distractions, making direct and sustained eye contact, and being willing to step outside of ourselves to show up for the other when the times comes to listen. It also means showing up for ourselves, and trusting our deepest sense of what needs to be said, written, drawn, sang, painted, etc. It so often also requires a willingness to be vulnerable and to allow ourselves to be truly seen by the other.
If you're interested in enhancing your ability to communicate with mindful presence about the things that really matter, the following are tips that may be worth considering trying: Own your feelings without blaming the other for eliciting it (always start the sentence with "I" instead of "you"). Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Be willing to take risks with safe others who you know can hold your vulnerability. Seek to understand, instead of automatically judging. Take breaks, take a deep breath (or several), meditate. Write out the main points you want to relay, practice in the mirror or aloud or with a close friend. Think about what you hope to achieve through the dialogue; what’s your intention? Work in therapy on barriers to communication, fears that may be getting in the way, old patterns, and be open to trying a new approach, no matter how foreign or frightening it may feel. If the desired outcome is not achieved (if your partner ultimately doesn’t agree to take the trash out every week, or your boss doesn’t agree to give you an assistant, or your mother-in-law continues to impose her ideas of parenting onto you relentlessly), foster a sense of gratitude for having been able to assert yourself calmly and considerately. The value of the practice of mindful and present communication is its utility in and of itself, regardless of the outcome it provides. It does not guarantee that the desired outcome will be achieved, although it certainly increases the odds, but it does guarantee a more sophisticated and masterful way of being with one’s own sense of expression and can offer a fresh and more alive way to connect to others in one’s life, which certainly seems like an outcome worth pursuing.
If you're interested in learning more about how to enhance your communication and self-expression, or are hoping to work through interpersonal challenges, or are interested in deepening your connection to yourself through awareness practice, feel free to call or email for a consultation and to schedule an initial session.
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