This month, Mindful Moments will explore the relationship between mindfulness and social wellbeing. One commonly experienced stressor is conflict in a social relationship, such as a disagreement with a friend, or a challenging conversation with a colleague at work. So much of our stress is socially based, and rooted in communication. How we express ourselves, being heard, and hearing others, contributes in a considerable way to our experiences in relation to others.
- Mindful Communication
- Insight Dialogue
- Relating Mindfully At Work
- Formal Mindfulness Practice
- Informal Mindfulness Practice
- Mindfulness at UBC
Mindfulness programs have long included a focus on mindful communication. Over the past ten years, an increasing number of programs have concentrated on mindful listening and speaking practices. Mindful communication has gained in popularity within professional development, and specifically with health care professionals. With considerable research demonstrating the value of mindfulness for health and wellbeing, health care practitioners were gaining interest in mindfulness-based trainings that serves both personal and professionals interests. In one study, physicians who went through an eight-week mindful communications programs showed significant improvements in mindfulness, empathy, physician belief scale (suggesting a shift toward greater value placed on understanding the patient’s emotional and social life in addition to disease-related factors), reduced burnout, and moderate improvements in mood and personality traits of consciousness (Krasner et al., 2009). Similar programs on mindful communications that include relational mindfulness practices have also demonstrated the value of cultivating therapeutic presence, which in turn facilitates the therapeutic relationship and patients outcomes (Hicks & Bien, 2008).
Gregory Kramer (2007) wrote “Insight Dialogue” on a distinctly new formal mindfulness practice based on being in dialogue; a considerable shift from the solitary practice of sitting meditation. I attended a workshop and five-day silent retreat with Kramer in 2009. Silence was kept between in-class formal meditations; that is, as the core practice took place in dyads and groups, it was supported by silent sitting practice. For me, it took some time to settle into the depth and power of this new relational mindfulness practice. What I found was that as I dropped in, I was better able to navigate the complexity of both personal and interpersonal awareness simultaneously, becoming more aware of others’ emotional messaging, and my own reactivity in the moment. In his book, Kramer (2007) summarizes the five central guidelines of Insight Dialogue: Pause, Relax, Open, Trust Emergence, Listen Deeply, Speak the Truth.
“Up to this point, we have been exploring how we can dwell in meditative awareness with others. As we Pause, we can Relax and accept what we find, and Open our awareness to encompass external as well as internal experience. We Trust Emergence, resting in the flux of experience; we meet the delight and the insecurity of change without knowing what the next moment will bring. Listening Deeply to our inner voice and to the voices of others, we come to the precipice of outward action. Attuned to the moment, we Speak the Truth. Whenever we speak, some bit of the heart-mind is revealed.
Developing our own practice of mindfulness also supports our working relationships. How we show up to work, and interact with colleagues, managers, and leaders, has a considerable influence on our social wellbeing. Our ability to connect and attune with others dictates our experience of social connectedness, a significant indicator of health. Our ability to connect requires us to be open and non-judgmental when in relation with others, a real life practice of mindfulness in motion. We all value the experience of feeling safe and secure with others, and when this doesn’t happen, we can find ourselves reacting with anxiety and anger, as we hold onto our perspectives and re-live conversations over in our minds. Guatama Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping hot rocks with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Learning to catch ourselves in conversations and situations when we are picking up hot rocks is a practice that we can all learn and improve upon. A good first step is pausing and grounding our breath in the body. This helps to return our attention to something other than the reactive neural pathway we were currently using. Daniel Siegel (2007) distinguishes this as top down vs. bottom up brain processing. When can disrupt the automatic patterns of top down systems through the practice of returning to our senses of the here and now. Part of the humour of mindfulness practice is making light at how often we can slip back into reactivity, an important practice of self-compassion.
Body Scan: this practice focuses on mindfulness of the body. Since we carry around our bodies every day of our lives, we can easily become desensitized to the subtleties of the body, changing energy, and emotions. For example, in this moment, notice how you can redirect your attention to the touch points of your feet with the floor, or your bum making contact with your seat. As you close your eyes and take a deep breath into the body, you enhance your internal awareness. As we practice the body scan, our sensitivities to the body increases, and we are able to more fully sustain our awareness within the constant subtleties of change taking place. Listen to the 20 Minute Body Scan Practice (opens as MP3)
The informal practice of mindfulness this month is mindful listening. The good news is we all have plenty of opportunity to practice! Creating the intention to practice non-judgmental presence when listening to others can be a challenge, as we so often jump in when others are speaking, either to finish their sentence or give ones’ own perspective. Try and catch yourself if you are thinking about what you are going to say next to a person when listening, and just try to return to be there fully listening to what they are saying. When we engage our own inner dialogue, our ability to fully listen diminishes and that is when key messages are often missed.
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Hicks, S. & Bien, T. (2008). Mindfulness and the Therapeutic Relationship. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Kramer, G. (2007). Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal Path to Freedom. Boston: Shambala.
Krasner, M. S., Epstein, R. M., Beckman, H., Suchman, A. L., Chapman, B., Mooney, C. J., & Quill, T. E. ( 2009). Association of an Educational Program in Mindful Communication With Burnout, Empathy, and Attitudes Among Primary Care Physicians. Journal of American Medical Association, 302(12), 1284-1293.
Siegal, D. (2007). The Mindful Brain. NY: W.W. Norton & Company.