In the Buddha’s eight fold path of awakening, mindful speech is so important that it is one of the eight limbs to live awake, free from misperceptions and enlightened.
Everyday we communicate in thousands of ways – with ourselves internally, with others through language and actions, in writing emails, sending texts and our body language. At the core of vipassana meditation is how we communicate from a place of presence to the different aspects of ourselves. Meditation is not just sitting quietly and looking inwards. It is also waking up to and connecting with what is present in each moment we encounter. Through our speech, we live the truth that words can create connection or disconnection. With intention, we have the possibility of our speech being a healing element in our lives and a bridge to compassionate action.
I have been offering Mindful Communication Workshops since 2009. I have found bringing presence, intention and empathetic interest to my ways of communicating has been one of the most rewarding ways to practice mindfulness. Many participates find mindfulness communication opens up new avenues of action ins their lives and reduces the anxiety around being understood. These communication techniques are practices which gives us immediate feedback. As with all contemplative practices, some days our attempts will be easy and others will be difficult. Somedays, our communication is successful because our minds are embodying a balanced state. Other days, our communication skills are failures because our minds are restless. Yet everyday we bring awareness to our speech, it bears fruit. This article is to share what I have developed in community in Mindful communication workshops and what I used everyday in my life.
So where do we begin to be more conscious in our speech?
We start by intentionally placing presence into our interactions. Just like when we do our formal meditation practices of sitting, walking, breathing or yoga asana, we bring our attention to the immediate felt experience in our bodies. Checking in to our body sensations as we speak or listen in a conversation, gives us feedback. This feedback is the bridge to letting go of over-reactivity and cultivating speech that is grounded.
This takes time because in the beginning it will be mentally juggling two « attention » balls. One ball will be listening to our conversations and the other ball is listening somatically to how we are reacting to the conversation. Just like juggling, we need to give time to train ourselves to balance these focuses. As we get use to being aware of our body cues, they inform us of how important the conversation is to us, if we are engaging or disconnecting and where we can place our attention to be more present. We learn to respect our inner reactions. Plus, we realize these internal reactions affect our ability to listen, discern and engage. If we consciously hold space for our reactions, we can shift our interactions with others from defending viewpoints to an active practise of listening, understanding and meeting different viewpoints.
Below are a few ways to start bringing mindfulness and intention to your communication skills and speech.
1st – Develop a sitting practice to learn to rest in the experience of your body.
The more embodied we are, the more we can intentionally work with the states of our mind and internal dialogue. As we become for familiar with our internal landscape, we can recognize our emotions, needs, wants and learn to express them with patience and skill.
In sitting meditation, do a body scan. Feel your feet touching the floor. Feel the breath in your body. If your mind wanders away from your body sensations, intentionally pause, breathe and return your attention on your felt experience of your body. Learn to anchor your meditation with presence. Then see if you can give 10 % – 15 % of your attention to your body sensations as you are speaking with others. Notice what happens. Many people find they are able to be more authentic and patient in their conversations because they can speak of what they are feeling and not get caught in reactions. They begin to embody their authentic experience. Oren Sayer, a mindful communication and meditation teacher, describes this somatic awareness in speech as learning to lead with presence.
For more support in your meditation practice, click here to read how to start a mindfulness based meditation practice.
2nd – Intentionally choose to listen more in your conversations.
For many of us, as we are talking with friends, family and colleagues, want to share as soon as we are stimulate to. Yet if we intentionally choose to pause and listen, we may see that are « sharings » are many times times are coming from a place of being we are triggered. Being triggered is a co-arising of needing to self protect and slightly disassociating. If we choose to practice pausing, resting in the body and listening completely to what our friend is sharing. These intentional actions allow us hear deeper what they are saying or trying to say. Plus, it allows us to acknowledge consciously our reactions to what is being shared. Then we will have the mental space to choose to absorb our friend’s words or give some space to our reaction to it.
Pausing and listening let’s us step out of our assumptions and leads to understanding other points of view. Our conversations can become interactions of sharing and expressing in safe space. Usually, this leads to deeper and more profound dialogue.
Another note, as we listen we may recognize that we were not listening. The act of listening allows us the time to recalibrate to be present. Listening is the bridge to embody new levels to understand the other. I have found over the years, my response after listening is to inquiry more into the other person’s experience than needing to share my own. This inquiry allows me to let go of assumptions that are not true or not applicable.
Also as we bring the listening role to our interactions, it allows the other person be acknowledged and respected. From receiving this respect, they will feel trusted and confident. This leads to them wanting to hear our point of view.
3rd – For planned conversations like meetings, interviews, lectures or conversations with loved one, give yourself time to prepare.
John Travis, a senior meditation teacher in Nevada City, California, suggests 4 elements of mindful speech when you are required to give a talk.
- Do whatever preparation you need to do to be prepare for the talk. Write notes, interview other people, exercise, stretch, do yoga, sitting meditation, draw a picture or have a cup of tea. We are all different, so we all will need something different to prepare to communicate.
- When speaking, stay connected to your body. Feel your feet touching the floor. Feel the breath in your body. Intentionally pause when speaking to come back to your felt experience in your body.
- Stay connected to your heart. Pause and feel if what you are communicating is connected to your authentic experience of being a human right here and right now.
- Let your thoughts self organize. Yes choose the intention of what you will share and through slowing down, let the words flow from your personal experience.
If you are interested in learning and practicing these effective forms of mindfulness and communication, please join me at my monthly Mindful Communication Workshops at Mindful Montreal. These workshops are offered by donation basis so everyone can participate. I offer them this way as my seva (community building gift) to Montreal.
May your speech be wise and your presence be metta,