This week’s post comes from Éowyn Ahlstrom, certified MBSR teacher, registered yoga teacher, and curator of this weekly blog collection.
Perhaps many in this forum can recall the “Communications Calendar” from the MBSR course in which participants write a few words each day for a week about their experiences of difficulties in ordinary communications. Then, in class, we explore ways that mindfulness may help in such conversations. I have found myself doing a practice like this lately.
I have been paying particular attention to what makes a conversation difficult for me. Practicing feeling and sensing my body, emotions and thoughts as clearly as I can during such conversations has been deeply interesting, and full of unexpected recognitions and surprises.
I have noticed that, for me, difficulty in communications arises for three basic reasons:
Not liking, or disagreeing with what the other person is saying;
Feeling unheard or unseen;
Feeling confused, in spite of apparent good will on both sides of the conversation.
I find that noticing these difficulties is not always enough to lead to a reduction of the stress involved. Responsiveness is also required. This means noticing what causes suffering and choosing to respond.
Let me offer some examples from my own practice, where I have started to see certain types of responsiveness as especially helpful for me with the three types of difficulty mentioned above:
When I disagree with the other person, it helps me to pause and breathe for a few moments before speaking further. In that pause I have a chance to check the motivation behind my next words. I briefly reflect that differences of opinion are a normal part of life, that my opinion isn’t necessarily right or better than someone else’s.
When I feel unheard/unseen, I find it helpful to let the other person know I feel that way. Then, they have a chance to listen more fully, and I have the chance to see how my offering this information affects the course of the conversation. Sometimes it clears things up. Other times, it shows me that there is a difference of opinion, as described above. Then I can pause, and keep practicing…
When I feel confused, I find it helpful to ask the other person if they are finding the discussion confusing as well. This allows an opening, a recognition of the confusion, without self-blame. Sometimes it leads to clarity, but not always.
This brings me to one more aspect that has entered my psyche deeply as I have worked with this: difficult conversations are part of life, normal. This recognition of our human situation often helps me let go of my expectations for successful communication in a moment when it isn’t possible to achieve.
In fact, my husband and I have turned it into a bit of a joke. When we aren’t seeing eye to eye, one of us will say, laughingly, to the other, “Not all communications can be successful”. It gives a palpable release. We don’t have to agree. We can still love and appreciate each other without having to hold exactly the same view. I find this wonderfully freeing.
This communication arose from what I’ve been noticing lately. It would be fun to hear what you have discovered about difficult conversations in your practice too, especially if you have a different view from mine!