Mindfulness & Wellbeing

Communicating Authentically From Our Heart

I’m very happy to announce the publication of a new book by Oren Jay Sofer on mindful communication!  Bringing mindfulness into real life situations is not always that easy and I find Oren’s writing to be insightful and inspirational. Thank you Oren!

Excerpt from: Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication
by Oren Jay Sofer

From Say What You Mean by Oren Jay Sofer © 2018 by Oren Jay Sofer. Reprinted in arrangement by Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. [[pg. 42-45]]

All real living is meeting.
—Martin Buber

When it comes to conversation, the force of our habits and the pressure of social settings can make it exceedingly difficult to maintain presence. Here, our internal practice serves as a basis. We use the arena of conversation itself as a training ground for presence, using techniques to anchor awareness within the midst of exchange and developing the capacity for relational awareness.

When I came to communication training after five years of dedicated mindfulness practice, I noticed certain changes emerging. I naturally began bringing more awareness to when I chose to speak and listen. I also began to make simple adjustments in the flow of my speech, taking pauses or making subtle shifts in my pace to modulate my nervous system. Eventually I learned to widen my awareness from my own sense of embodiment to include the other person, our connection, and the space around us.

Choice Points: Speaking or Listening

Consciously choosing when to speak and when to listen is essential for meaningful conversation. In some respects, it’s the most basic communication skill. How many times have you said something only to wish you could take it back moments after the words left your mouth? Or hit “send” on an email when it might have been better to let things cool off? It’s equally important to have the courage to say our piece. When we don’t speak up, we can feel as if we’ve let ourselves or our loved ones down.

Conversation is a dynamic interplay between each person’s choice to speak or listen. When those choices are conscious and respectful, conversations tend to be more productive and enjoyable. If those choices are unconscious or impulsive, conversations tend to be less productive and more stressful.

I call this juncture the “choice point” between speaking and listening. With presence, every moment offers a choice. One of my NVC colleagues uses the acronym WAIT to remind himself of this. “Why Am I Talking?” he asks, pointing to how quickly and easily we tend to open our mouths. “What Am I Thinking?” he inquires, tracking the mental process that spurs our speech.

A choice point is a moment of awareness in which we decide whether to speak or listen.

Our ability to maintain presence at the choice point takes practice. Sometimes the moment of choice races by like a road sign while we are doing seventy-five miles per hour on the freeway. The impulse to speak can be so strong that it impels us to verbalize simply to release the internal pressure. If we tend toward the quieter side, it can feel as if those openings in a conversation disappear before we can muster our voice.

This is where mindfulness comes in. In meditation, we learn how to observe unpleasant sensations (knee pain, a sore back) without immediately reacting. We develop the capacity to be aware of an impulse without acting on it.

The anxiety we feel in conversation is usually rooted in deeper needs to be seen or heard, needs for safety, acceptance, belonging, and so on. The less confident we feel in meeting those needs, the more pressure we will experience to speak up or remain silent. We might fear that if we don’t say something right now we’ll never be able to do so. Or if we do say something, disaster or disconnection will surely ensue.

The more ways we find to meet those needs (and to handle them skillfully when they aren’t met), the less pressure we feel to speak or remain silent; we can relax into the flow of a conversation. There’s no danger in speaking our mind and no rush to say it all at once. If it’s important, we’ll find the right time and way to say it.

This capacity builds slowly. As we practice honoring our needs, we learn to trust ourselves. Paying attention to any small successes helps our nervous system settle and reset. With a new baseline of ease, it can stop setting off false alarms that impel or prevent us from speaking, and our ability to make more conscious choices grows. We can then discern what’s going to be most helpful to move a conversation forward and how to balance all the needs on the table.

Practice: Choice Points

To practice, choose someone with whom you feel relatively comfortable. This familiarity makes it easier to learn the tool. During a conversation, notice when you choose to speak. If you find yourself talking without having consciously chosen to do so, try stopping and leaving space for the other person to continue. Notice what it’s like to actively choose to say something rather than doing so automatically. Pay particular attention to any urgency or reluctance to speak or any sensations of internal pressure. Use that pressure as a signal to make a more conscious choice.

Meetings

There tends to be more freedom to remain silent in meetings than during one-to-one conversations. The next time you are in a meeting, notice how the impulse to speak can rise and fall as the conversation unfolds. If there is an important point you’d like to make, choose when to do so. You can always begin, “I’d like to go back to something we were talking about a few moments ago.” Notice how it feels after you speak. Is there relief? Anxiety or self-doubt?

Written Communication

Experiment with making conscious choices about when you check your inbox or social media feeds (“listening”). When you do engage, pause before replying to consider whether or not you want to “speak.” Is this the right time? Would it be useful to wait or to say nothing at all?

Part of this investigation is getting to know our own patterns. Do we tend to speak easily and freely, finding it harder to leave space for others? Is it more comfortable for us to listen, finding it challenging to come forward?

Most of us tend to be stronger in one area. Circumstances and events tied to our gender, race, class, or other aspects of our social location tend to mold how we show up relationally. We’ve all received messages—explicitly and implicitly, personally and through media, stories, and culture—about how we are expected to behave. Through various cues of approval or disapproval, inclusion or exclusion, we learn what’s safest based on our role and the expectations of others.

Our work is to uncover these patterns and develop an authentic freedom of expression. There is no ideal way to be, no one thing to do in all circumstances. The goal is dynamic flexibility through presence, choosing to speak or listen as needed.

Oren Jay Sofer is the author of Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication. He leads retreats and workshops on mindful communication at meditation center centers and educational settings around the United States. A graduate of the IMS-Spirit Rock Teacher Training Program, he holds a degree in Comparative Religion from Columbia University, teaches in the Insight Meditation community, and is a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and a Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication. Oren creates mindfulness training programs for a number of organizations including Mindful Schools, Kaiser Permanente, and 10% Happier. He lives in Richmond California.

Mindful Listening

“When listening to another person, don’t just listen with your mind, listen with your whole body. Feel the energy field of your inner body as you listen.That takes attention away from thinking and creates a still space that enables you to truly listen without the mind interfering. You are giving the other person space – space to be. It is the most precious gift you can give.” Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

Can you bring to mind a time when someone gave you the gift of truly listening to you? Deep into your heart? Maybe it was a moment of deep despair, or just a moment of confusion. Beneath everything, all the storms you carry around on the surface, they saw you. They knew you. They touched your humanity.

dreamstime_xs_28363016 listening

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Ten Questions About Mindfulness

Interest in mindfulness and meditation is appearing everywhere. The concepts seem simple on one level, yet certain questions seem to keep coming up over and over. For instance, have you ever wondered: “where do I find the time to meditate?” or “how can I meditate if I can’t stop my thoughts?”. Here are some ideas to ponder that may help you find answers to these and other questions.

However, if you continue to find meditation difficult or perplexing, we recommend joining a teacher-led class. The instructor can help you find answers that fit your particular situation. Plus sharing with others in the class can give you inspiration and support.

More information about classes

 

“Fruit of the Practice” Moments

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Sometimes a meditation practice can feel stale or boring or pointless. Then all of a sudden, out of the blue, a moment spontaneously arrives  where you know you’re experiencing life in a more open, curious, friendly or compassionate way. Those moments are the real “fruit of the practice”.

For instance, one day last fall I went to my 7 year old grandson’s house on the spur of the moment. I found him raking leaves with a 3 foot branch with an “L” shaped end. This seemed like very slow going to me and I found myself wanting to help him do it “right”. Then suddenly I became aware that this was an opportunity to join with him and be in the moment with his agenda in a supportive role. Together we found several ways to gather the leaves and the hour passed swiftly. As he jumped in the finished pile, we celebrated together with a squeal. Ah, what a delight!

Another example was given by one or our students. While taking her dog for a walk one morning, she became aware he was looking at her anxiously as he prepared to ‘pee’. She suddenly realized how impatient and preoccupied she was, thinking about everything she needed to do back at the house.  She began to feel  apologetic for all those moments she ‘wasn’t there’ and the angst it generated in her dog…and in herself. Being present and enjoying those morning walks with her dog became a new mindfulness practice through which they were both nourished!

Another example is from a manager who became aware of how he habitually passed his employees in the hallway, preoccupied and in a rush…hardly noticing their presence.  He suddenly realized that his demeanor might be off putting and that he was missing a chance for positive interactions. He began to make walking mindfully down the hall a part of his daily practice.  Not only did his employees respond more positively, so did he!

We would love to hear some of your “fruit of the practice” moments and how they affected you in your life. Share them below in the “Comment” section. We will publish one of them in our next Newsletter.  Thank you in advance for sharing!

M & W

Mindfulness is 
the art of paying attention,
of listening to your heart.

Mindfulness helps us embody
the values we hold deeply
and express them in the world.

Quote

Between stimulus and response
there is a space.

In that space is our power
to choose our response.

In our response lies
our growth and our freedom.

Victor Frankl