Many techniques to improve communication have been made popular through books and workshops. Tools such as assertiveness, deep listening and use of nonviolent language can improve relationships, but so often, even though we know these techniques, we fall back into old patterns. The techniques are good, but they are only techniques.
The problem with a technique is that we apply the learned skill like a tool or a recipe and use it only when necessary. Techniques don’t change the basic tendencies that keep popping up in our communication patterns. We go on autopilot and follow a programmed response in our close relationships. Breaking these old patterns is essential if we want a new way of living and new habit formations that afford us opportunities to choose new ways of responding to others. Using the principles of mindfulness, we can break the old patterns of communication that keep us stuck in a reactive mode of relating and responding to others.
As with all mindfulness practices, the first step is to stay with your breath. When engaged in a conversation, periodically returning to the breath helps maintain mindfulness of the physical sensations, feelings and thoughts that arise as we communicate. It helps us stay present in the moment to hear fully what others are saying, and to know how to respond appropriately. It gives us the still point in which intelligent choice arises. It is from this still point that we can elect to apply the techniques of communication that we have learned.
Ask yourself, “Is what I want to say important enough to break the silence?” Many times we speak or respond to situations that do not call for our response or observation. This could be motivated by a desire to be sociable, but often such behavior clutters the mind and distracts the attention of the communicants. It can also cloud the communication, creating misunderstandings about intention. Importantly, it moves us away from a place of awareness or mindfulness.
Make sure that what you have to say is true. What is true is not necessarily factua1. To know what is “true” is to know what is most helpful to everyone in any given situation. To say what is true, we have to drop our fixed positions and opinions and really be aware of the reality of the moment. We need to ask ourselves, what would be harmful to say, what would be helpful and is this the best time to say it? To do so in the heat of the moment takes a lot of mindfulness.
The most important question we have to ask ourselves is, is what I have to say beneficial? If what we have to say will cause unnecessary harm to ourselves or others, it’s best not to say it.
Suggested practice: Before speaking, ask yourself, is what I have to say harmful? If yes, don’t say it. Is what I have to say helpful? If yes, then wait for the right time.
Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-6500.