One area where we tend to have unconscious tendencies is in our communication. Even among regular meditators, it’s uncommon for us to meditate with another human being. Instead, we isolate ourselves and look inward.
Like a scientist observing a phenomenon in a lab, we learn about our minds in a pristine environment. Yet just like science, it’s essential to take the theory out of the lab and test it out in practice. Likewise, if we want to improve our communication, it’s essential for us to take mindfulness out of solo practice and bring it into conversation.
Mindful Listening: A Meditation on Communication
The Mindful Listening practice is a meditation that’ll help you become more aware of your mind and your mental habits during conversation. As you become more aware of your mental habits in your day to day conversations, you’ll also have more power to change it. Here’s how this meditation works.
To do this exercise, you’ll need a friend, family member or co-worker. You’ll switch off with one another, each person taking turns to speak. You’ll each speak for 3 minutes, uninterrupted.
When you’re in the speaker role, all you need to do is talk for 3 minutes. The topic doesn’t matter, but do try experimenting with different topics. You don’t have to fill the entire 3 minutes. If you run out of things to say, just stop speaking and sit in silence until you feel like talking again. Your turn is over when 3 minutes is up. You’ll want to switch between speaker and listener roles at least a couple times.
In this meditation, the more active role is actually the listener’s. When you’re listening, your role is to be mindful. Put your attention on what the speaker is saying – as well as on your mind’s inner dialogue. The most you’re allowed to say when listening is “I see” or “I understand.”
Take these 3 minutes to really notice how your mind works when you’re in communication. For example:
- Do you feel the urge to share your own, possibly impressive story?
- Do you feel the urge to offer advice?
- What emotions are you experiencing?
- Are you “trying” to do anything? Are you trying to get them to like you or trying to do the exercise right?
- Are you making any assumptions?
- What are the unspoken qualities in the interaction?
Whatever mental tendencies you notice during this meditation, there’s a good chance they’re mental tendencies you experience on a regular basis. In everyday life, when everything’s moving at a fast pace, it’s difficult to be mindful and spot these tendencies. By spotting them in an interpersonal meditation like this, you open up the possibility of noticing them in real-time in the real world. Then you can start to change these habits, if you choose to do so.