Photo by Moodywalk on Unsplash
Last week I wrapped up a 10-day silent meditation retreat. In fact, it was the 5th 10-day retreat I had sat within the last few years.
I get many questions when I share this, the most common of which is: Why?
There are many, many reasons why I sit retreats and maintain a regular meditation practice. And I'm going to let you in on one major reason. In fact, this reason directly relates to cultivating better communication skills.
I distinctly remember the feeling.
It was a tension in my chest that, from time to time, turned into an unpleasant pulsation. Energy surged through my arms as well, like water flowing through a deflated hose. I could feel my heart hammering in my chest.
Why was I experiencing this?
I was in a time crunch and forgot to print off a crucial file for an application. The completed form sat comfortably in my Documents folder. I was far from home and running out of options.
"I know, I'll call my mom."
See, the file I needed was sitting on my computer, ready to go. My plan was to have my mom (who I conveniently live with) send me the file so that I could print it from where I currently was.
I called and, fortunately, she picked up. I hurriedly explained to her the situation I was in.
"Okay, just give me a couple of minutes. I just got home."
My palms started to sweat.
"Okay," I said, mustering up all of my patience.
A minute later she was making her way to my computer.
Now here is the crux of this story - my mom uses a PC and has used PCs her whole life. I have a Mac.
And so began the excruciating process of explaining to my mom, over the phone, how to navigate my computer (all within a short time frame to meet my deadline).
And boy, was it agonizing. As I explained to her how to log in, how to find the folder, open apps, use chrome, draft an email, etc., I could feel all sorts of unpleasant sensations arising in my body.
That tension in my chest, the energy in my arms, the pounding of my heart... that all came at me at full force.
It's the same kind of feeling you would get when you helplessly watch a nearby disaster unfold in front of your eyes, without any ability to aid in any way.
But not once did I lose my cool. Not once did I lose my temper or snap at her for simply trying her best to help me out. In fact, I managed to stay relatively calm and focused during the entire process (minus a few staccato moments here and there).
In the end, my mom navigated the computer. I got the file. Mission accomplished.
But the biggest accomplishment was the way that I handled the situation. In the past, I would not have stayed that calm. I would have gotten quite angry, frustrated and short with my mom. I would have reacted with irritation, aggravation, curtness, and perhaps even sarcasm around the situation.
But I didn't. I experienced unpleasant sensations and chose not to react to them.
And herein lies the secret of why creating a mindfulness meditation practice to improve your communication skills is so important: Mindfulness meditation is about noticing the subtle sensations in your body and practicing not reacting to them.
In fact, these sensations are called "interoceptive sensations". I'll cover more about this in a separate article.
So, when I'm meditating and I am experiencing pain, tingling, itching, or anything in between, my goal is to not react and to simply observe the sensations objectively, without bringing any meaning or significance to them.
The reason why this is important in a Mindful Communication context is because we are constantly reacting to sensations that come up for us in conversation. If we hear something we like, we smile. If someone says something funny, we laugh. If someone is doing something irritating, we tend to snap. When we bring mindfulness to our conversations, we get to choose how we react to others.
On top of this, most of our reactions are blind reactions. I do it. You do it. Everyone has these instantaneous reactions to sensations in their bodies because it's literally ingrained in our biology.
But now with this practice, when tense situations arise in my life, I have a better chance of noticing the sensations and I am more able to choose whether or not to react to them. This is the practice of mindful communication. This practice has me experience more ease in tense situations and has me less likely to say something I might regret.
Now, do I still react blindly? You bet. And do I have a better chance of thinking through my reactions than the average person? I sure think so.
The key is to practice (just like communication skills!).
What do you think of all of this? Have you experienced these sensations in your own body? Have you been in a situation where you reacted without thinking? Is there a time when you wanted to react, and instead chose not to? What happened in that situation?
Please comment and let me know!