How it was
What follows below are my reflections from week 6 of the MBSR 18 months ago. After that I consider how the ideas and practice suggested have been applied (or not) since then.
Week 6 of the MBSR with CMWR in Swansea University centered on staying aware and balanced during stressful communication/relationships. The opportunity to practice mindfulness when we communicate with others is one that can support our effectiveness as communicators and the relationship itself.
The session focused initially on some practical steps. We started with a short sitting meditation to ground ourselves and then engaged in some listening exercises to experience what happens when we try to listen. Of course, whilst we are engaged in an exercise, ‘trying to listen’ we may be a little more tuned into the process than when we’re engaged in regular conversation.
Effective conversation requires us to talk and listen. During most conversations we are listening, but we are also plotting! Often we are engaged in a process of thinking about/judging what the other is saying and what we are going to say. So the first step in becoming more mindful in any conversation is to be aware that this is happening.
In a stressful conversation the thinking/judging may be heightened, our feelings (thoughts linked to an emotion) may be quite loud! Our opportunity is to become aware of this. To notice the thought, and perhaps to be aware of the fear that is generating it. These may be familiar thoughts (if the conversation is with a long term relationship partner) and familiar feelings. These may generate familiar thinking patterns and responses. The first step is to recognise that this has happened; maybe we are able to name the underpinning fear or habitual reaction (to ourselves).
In these moments it may be helpful to follow our breath in and out, to feel gravity in our body: our feet on the ground, our bottom on its seat. We may be able to tune in to the physical reactions the conversations is creating in our body. Our thoughts may generate reactions in the throat, chest or belly. If we can tune into this physical experience and we follow our breath, we can root ourselves in the present moment and give ourselves a little space to respond with understanding.
This practice bring us totally into the present moment, it may help us to be able to listen to the other with greater compassion, possibly even to understand their perspective. It will also support the opportunity to be aware of our feelings and to express them assertively, but without aggression. We may be able to say, ‘I feel so angry when you say that.’ Rather than, ‘You make me so angry.’
This is all easy to explain and even to understand theoretically . Applying it when we are engaged in deep conversation is challenging. Which is why mindfulness is called a practice. It may be helpful to actually practice noticing our thoughts and feelings. To engage in a meditation practice that has our mind’s events as its focus rather than the breath.
Here’s the practice.
- Sit in your normal meditation pose.
- Follow the breath for a few minutes until you are settled and present.
- Let go of following the breath and just notice your mind.
- Watch thoughts come to your attention. Don’t follow them, just watch them leave.
- If you become lost in a thought, note it and return to the breath for a moment. Then return to observing your mind.
- You may notice a pattern to your thoughts. Notice if they are linked to past or future events. You could even say to yourself, ‘past’, then return to your observing.
- You may notice feelings, which are thoughts linked to an emotion. Note the feeling, maybe even observe any physical reactions to the feeling. Then return to your observing.
Here’s an excellent article from Life Hack that offers ‘Mindful conversation in 9 easy steps’
Here’s another one from Insanity Mind that offers a listening response technique that we practiced on the MBSR course. ‘How to be more present: Mindful conversation’
How it is now
18 months on how mindful are my conversations? I’d say pretty present, but perhaps my fellow communicators should be asked! I do know that the practices suggested have had an impact in my deepening mindfulness generally and in the development of my approach to mindful photography.
Whilst I am aware of a broadening of mindfulness throughout my life I am also aware that I still forget to pay attention regularly. I occasionally forget things, miss things happening or zone out. However, I do more regularly catch this happening, and tune back in to the moment. It remains an ongoing practice and always will. It is a life practice and the attendant personal judgement when I do lose the moment is beginning to soften. I remain committed to the ongoing practice.
Ripples of these practices, ideas and intentions pass through my photography developments. In the last year I have written a book on the subject (to be shared during 2017) and I am currently developing my reinterpreted online course (live in Spring 2017).
In both the book and course I explain how similar practices can be integrated using your camera. Not so much the mindful conversation, of course, more the attention to the moment, and your thoughts and feelings experienced whilst you are creating photos.
Both photo thinking and present feelings are aspects of life that are an opportunity to develop mindfulness through the creation of a photograph. All will become clear this year. Stay tuned!