Communication happens in the context of relationship. Before we tune into the other (colleague, boss, family member, friend) it helps to have a relationship with ourselves first. So much of ease in communication comes from simply pausing and observing our own mind/body state before we interact with another.
Is the communication clean? Or do we bring a hidden agenda or frustration embedded in the interaction.. if so could we pause, wait for the static to die down, and proceed with clarity?
Read on for specific tips to cultivate clean communication in your life and spend less time and energy ruminating over the inevitable conflicts or struggles.
Welcome to Week Five of the Summer of Meditation Challenge!
I hope you enjoyed the integration week to digest the lessons we have covered so far on Balance, Concentration, Compassion & Resiliency. Remember there is no behind in the Summer of Meditation Challenge. Trust what you have gotten so far and begin again!
The guided meditation this week will focus on emotions (and letting go of them) and will involve both a simple mantra meditation as well as introduce how to identify and meditate on your core-desired emotions.
Meditation: Releasing Emotions + Mantra Meditation (15 minutes in AM) + 15 minutes in PM of a walking meditation or reflecting with gratitude on your day.
Real World Mindfulness Practices: Deep Listening + Mindful Email (one of most practical tips of the summer!)
How to engage in each of these practices is explained in detail below.
The Reflection: On Communication*
In our action-oriented culture we can forget the power of the intention behind the action, yet our bodies sense this nonverbal information. In fact, only a small percentage of what we communicate comes through the words we speak.
One study shows that in face to face interactions, 55% of the emotional meaning of a message comes through body language (expression, posture, gesture), 38% through tone of voice and only 7% through words.
We mirror each other emotionally and energetically. In that way feelings are contagious. This underscores the importance of being in relationship with yourself first… by taking a few breaths and getting curious about what is going on inside before connecting with another so as not to bring unwanted static to the interaction.
Now of course we are all going to having challenging feelings and moods. The goal is not to eradicate them, but to simply be aware of them. You can also choose to invite or cultivate certain positive states. We all house these soul qualities, what is sometimes called the Buddha nature or Christ consciousness, within. And we can water the seeds of these qualities by calling them to mind and allowing our attention to rest on the embodied experience of them, in the same way we do our breath.
Richard Rohr, a favorite author and wisdom teacher, explains that “pain you don’t transform, you transmit.” This is also true of negative feelings… think about how easily we pass them on to others. In fact a recent study at Baylor University shows that spending forty hours a week with a nasty coworker is detrimental not only to the coworker but also to the coworker’s spouse and even their spouse’s colleagues!
Add to this interconnectedness the speed of communication and the ripple effects of mindlessness can be far and wide.
So.. make your countercultural communications move. Give yourself time to respond skillfully rather than to react to a challenging interaction. And run your communication through this filter:
- is it kind?
- Is it necessary (or useful)?
- Is it true?
I find I have to work the most on necessary. I tend to do OK on the kind and true filter… but definitely share more than is really useful sometimes (I like to externally process… ask my husband!)
But when I employ the filter I find that I’m more judicious in what I choose to process. And vetting communication in this way opens space for me to use my energy and interactions with others in a different way. And often this feels more spacious and easy!
So consider those filters (kind, necessary + true).
Is there one you would like to focus on for the next week?
Here are a few other tips for skillful communication:
- I statements. This is a classic, but like most good lessons, it is easier to “know you should” than to consistently do it. Leading your communication with “I think…” leaves space for others’ experience. As a simple example… say you are leaving an art show. You say to your friend: “That was the most beautiful show ever made!” Now your friend has to climb over your opinion in order to offer her own, especially if she wasn’t that into it. I statements create a neutral communication zone where others can more easily share their experiences.
- Drop the “dress rehearsal.” If you are running conversations again and again in your mind— trying to anticipate what you will say to someone you might think that you are “working something out” or “making a plan.” Usually however such inner conversations (which can become painfully obvious when we try to sit and meditate) are driven by anxiety. Rather than endlessly running through the conversation (especially if there is a conflict) take your busy mental chatter as a clue to slow down, to do something nourishing for yourself, and to get curious about the emotions which are undergirding it. Consciously choose to lay down your need to “know what to say” for a while, trusting that 1) you will have what you need when/if it comes to pass and 2) that you may actually discover a fresh alternative once your amygdala calms down.
- You don’t have to be Zen all the time. In fact, anxiety and excitement travel on the same neural pathways. So you might observe in your relationships, particularly work or other collaborations, that you get all “buzzy” if something new is opening up. That’s ok! Observe your condition for yourself saying “wow I’m really excited about this possibility! I’m not sure how it is all going to unfold but that is ok… I can use the energy I feel to take next steps.” Again first getting clear on how you feel and working with the energy behind the emotion can make all the difference.
Release Your Emotions + Cultivate Positive Qualities
The meditation below is a form of a Mantra meditation, a practice of repeating a word or a phrase. For many people a mantra meditation becomes the daily or regular standard as opposed to the breath meditation. It can be especially helpful for busy brains as it gives the mind a job. In this case the four qualities we are cultivating are fresh, solid, clear, and free as well as an invitation to name your own “core-desired emotion.”
Tune into your breath. If you are feeling sleepy, notice the warm and cool sensations of air moving past the tip of your nose. If multiple thoughts are buzzing, drop your awareness down and feel your breath sensations in the belly.
After a few breaths check in with your emotional landscape. Take the temperature of your feelings or moods…
Perhaps they are positive ones.. maybe you are feeling peaceful. Or happy… if so name the emotion and map the accompanying body sensations. Often the positive emotions are subtle compared to anger, fear, and sadness so noting how happiness or contentment lands in you in a moment of meditation can make it easier to recognize those tender positive emotions when they bubble up in real life.
Or maybe today you are feeling anxious or frustrated about something. Just meet yourself where you are. The goal is not to gloss over challenging emotions but instead notice and make space for them. Gently identify the emotion… Do this with a light touch.
Oh, envy again. Sadness, anger… I see you. If you find yourself using a harsh inner tone of voice, try again for a neutral one. Oh hello again anxiety. I see that you are back.
As you notice and make space for the emotion it often will shift, perhaps even unravel a few degrees. It can also help to notice where the emotion lands in your body—perhaps anxiety is a knot in your stomach. Sometimes another part of us tenses up in response. Maybe your shoulders tighten … almost throwing up a defense in the face of that unsettling emotion.
Breathe and release the reactive tension and see if you can simply be with the original knot or constriction. Often as we calmly observe the emotion or the constriction in the body, the knot will begin to untangle on its own.
Now that we have creating some space, call to mind these soulful qualities which live within you:
Breathing in see yourself as a flower, breathing out, you are beautiful, just as you are and feel very fresh.
On the inhale say “flower”, exhale “fresh.”
Repeat for a few breaths… really feeling this quality of freshness in your own body. When you are ready release the image of the flower….
Breathing in, see yourself as a mountain, breathing out, feel how solid you are, nothing can move or distract you.
Inhale “mountain”, exhale “solid.” Continue for a few breaths then release the mountain…
Breathing in see yourself as still water, a calm clear lake, breathing out note that you reflect things just as they are, inside and around you.
Inhale “still water” Exhale “Clear.” Continue for a few breaths… then release the water.
Breathing in, you see yourself as the big sky, with a lot of space in and around you, like the moon- Breathing out, feel very free and at ease.
Inhale “space” exhale “free”
To close your practice simply ask yourself “How do I want to feel?”
Allow yourself to really answer that question… peaceful, present, rooted… (listen for words which have a certain charge for you, which land in your body and feel really good. Warmth in your heart, sense of opening and expansion rather than constriction.)
Happy is a common and rightful emotion to desire. Other examples, joyful, harmonious, generous, solid…Allow gratitude to bubble up for anything you may have received in this meditation… and continue to live the question (how do I want to feel) throughout your day and listen for your heart-felt response.
Real World Mindfulness Practices (You get two this week: Deep Listening + Mindful Email)
- Commit to listening more than you talk in an upcoming conversation. Quality listening is so rare in our culture… When we meet others the temptation is to be self-preoccupied: how much do they like me, was that an impressive comment? Or a stupid one? There is freedom in listening more than talking. Listening without an agenda is an enormous gift to offer in both our personal and professional lives.
- Craft your email. Send it to yourself first. Take a break from it and a few breaths. When you are ready, open the email and re-read it as if you were the recipient. Check in with your motivation behind the communication and how it made you feel. Edit accordingly until it feels light and only contains essentials. The more time you spend mindfully crafting the email the easier it is to not be preoccupied with the communication after you click send.
The Commitment. Now it is Your Turn.
What do you what to try on this week? Ready to keep going with a daily or almost daily practice? Great! Overwhelmed but think you could listen more than you talk at an upcoming meeting or compose a mindful email? Wonderful.
This is your summer of meditation challenge! I do encourage you to get clear, even if only to yourself, about your commitment for the week– specificity is powerful. Write it on a sticky note. Tell a friend. or better… leave it for me as a comment below. I’d love to hold it with you this week.
Courtney Pinkerton, M.Div & M.PP, is a holistic life coach and the founder of Bird in Hand Coaching. She holds dual masters degrees from Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Kennedy School, is the host of the Summer of Meditation Challenge and publishes a popular blog on soulful living. Courtney teaches regularly on the Enneagram (a personality map), meditation, and mindbody practices to reduce stress as well as supporting other “soulpreneurs,” aka women who want to lead with heart in their work + lives. She lives in Oak Cliff, Texas with her husband Richard Amory where they try to keep up with their three children and remember to water their garden boxes. You can read more about her coaching options here or Courtney can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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* Themes for the Summer of Meditation Challenge are drawn from Sharon Salzberg’s new book: Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace (2014).
Link to the Baylor study on the far-reaching impact of the nasty coworker!
Mantra Meditation “Fresh, Solid, Reflecting, Space” from Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community.