A Guided Reflection on Communicating with AwarenessThe Buddha described wise speech, the speech that expresses reverence for life, as speaking only what is true and what is helpful. Yet caught as we are in reacting to each other out of wanting and fear, how do we recognize what is true? How do we discern what is helpful? How do we speak and listen from our hearts?
The following meditative practices are guidelines for being mindful and openhearted in communicating with each other. They have been drawn from different sources and are used in varying combinations by kalyanna mitta (spiritual friends) and similar groups around the United States.
You can practice them yourself whenever you are engaged in conversation, or you can use them as formal guidelines for interpersonal meditation where two or more people are gathered for the purpose of mindful dialogue.
- Set your intention. As a basic spiritual practice establish your intention to be present, honest and kind in relating to others in any circumstance. Remind yourself of your resolution at the start of each day, at the beginning of an interpersonal meditation or before any interaction with others.
- Let your body be an anchor. Choose two or three touch points, places in your body where you can reawaken a sense of presence. These might be the sensations of breathing the sensations in your shoulders, hands, stomach or feet. Return to them as often as possible when you are communicating with others. The more you practice staying aware of these touch points during your sitting practice and throughout the day, the more readily you’ll sustain an embodied presence when you are with others.
- Listen from the heart. While others are speaking try to let go of your own thoughts and pay attention to what they are saying. This means letting go of your agenda for the conversation. Stay aware of the feelings and sensations that occur throughout your body and especially in the heart area. Be particularly aware of your mind wandering off into judgments. If you find yourself criticizing, analyzing or interpreting meet these thoughts with mindfulness, let them go and return to receptive listening. This doesn’t mean you are agreeing with whatever is being said, but rather you are honoring the other by offering your full presence and attention. Let your listening be wholehearted and deep, paying attention to the person’s tone, pitch, volume and words. In addition to content, allow yourself to receive the mood and spirit of what another is expressing.
- Speak from the heart. Try not to prepare and rehearse what you will say in advance, especially while another is speaking. Rather, in the present moment speak what feels true and meaningful. This might be a response to what you have just heard. Or as happens in meditative dialogue, it may not be necessary to respond. Rather, what you say arises from your immediate stream of experience. Speaking from the heart begins with inward listening. Speak slowly enough to stay mindfully connected with your body and heart.
- Pause, relax and attend. During your interactions pause repeatedly. Pause briefly before and after you speak. Pause as you are speaking to reconnect with your body and feelings. Pause when another is done speaking, giving some space for what they have said to settle. With each pause relax your body and mind. Rest in openness paying full attention to this moment’s experience. After pausing you might deepen your attention by using inquiry to check in with your own heart and mind. Ask yourself “What is true now? What am I feeling?” Deepen your awareness of the other by asking yourself “What might this person be experiencing?” This inquiry is both active and receptive—you are intentionally asking and investigating, and also opening to whatever is arising. Use pause-relax-attend whenever you remember as a sacred pathway into presence.
- Practice Radical Acceptance. The effort to be present and awake with each other is very humbling. The given is that we will forget our intention, forget to connect with our body, forget to listen without thinking, forget not to rehearse, forget, forget, forget. Hold the whole process with Radical Acceptance, forgiving yourself and others again and again for being perfectly imperfect. When Radical Acceptance is a container for our relationships, genuine intimacy becomes possible.
Training ourselves to be present with each other is a way to integrate mindfulness and lovingkindness into our daily life. In the moments when we communicate with honesty and kindness, we begin to dissolve the trance of separation. Instead of being driven by wanting or fear, we feel increasingly spontaneous and real. As much as any meditation, these practices allow us to discover, through relating wakefully with each other, the sweetness of our connectedness and belonging.
Reprinted with Permission from Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach ISBN 0-533-38099-0