Mindful Connection

Sharon Salzberg, in her presentation provided as part of the  Mindfulness & Meditation Summit, focused on the theme, The Art of Mindful Connection.  Sharon is the author of ten books, including Real Love.

Sharon made the point that real love is not a commodity to be exchanged, it is not simply about reciprocation -“I’ll do something for you, if you do something I want in return.”  In her view, love does not mean unwillingness to express your own needs or feelings or coming from a place of neediness.

At times, real love is “tough love”, expressed as a readiness to say “no”, when the context, situation or your needs require that response.  It does not mean just agreeing with the other person for the sake of peace or a false sense of making them happy.

Sharon spoke of love as a capacity – a capacity for real connection which flows out of being mindful.  Real love creates real connection and is developed through mindfulness practice and being mindful in the situation when we encounter people.

The problem is that we all bring our conditioning and assumptions to every interaction – some being more negatively impactful than others.  We each have our own conditioning and assumptions developed as a result of our family environment, our work experience and/or life events.

Our conditioning may mean that we are wary of dissenting, reticent to express our feelings and needs or have difficulty trusting others.  Adverse events in our life may contribute to a tendency to look for, and see, only the negatives we experience, e.g. when reviewing our day, we may only focus on what we did wrong, our lack of achievement and/or our disappointments.

Our assumptions play a major role in how we relate to others.  We can show interest in people (who we assess as interesting), look right past others or consider others to be not worth talking to.

Sharon told the story of a writer friend of hers who, on first sight of a woman who had approached him, assumed that she was not intelligent or not “with it”.  It turned out that the woman was very intelligent and was actually a professional proof-reader for a publisher.

This example resonated strongly with my experience of my own unfounded assumptions which I described in my previous post about removing blockages to learning and performance.

Sharon encourages us to engage in meditation practice and honestly confront ourselves – to look squarely at the impact of our conditioning and assumptions on our relations with others.

She suggests, for instance, that in conversations with ourselves that we ask penetrating questions.   We could ask, for example, “What groups do we think do not count?”, “Which of our assumptions were at play in a recent interaction with someone else that did not work out as we expected?” or “Who have we been avoiding and why?”

Sharon urges us to be honest with ourselves in these conversations and not let negative emotions such as shame or embarrassment get in the road of a genuine exploration of how our conditioning and assumptions play out in our daily interactions.

She suggests that unearthing these impediments creates a new freedom – a liberation from the constraints that prevent us from achieving mindful connection with others.  Mindfulness, in her view, is the gift of liberation.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and conversations with ourselves, we can free ourselves from the conditioning and assumptions that hold us back from genuine engagement with others.  By becoming progressively unfettered in the way we relate and being able to give our full attention to the other person, we can create meaningful and mindful connections.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of sasint on Pixabay

Conversations with Ourselves Can Remove Blockages to Learning and Performance

Recently, I was watching some video presentations and podcasts on mindfulness, including a number available on YouTube.  I passed over a number of offerings for one reason or another.  However, in a conversation with myself about overlooking one presentation, I was suprised to realise that my decision was impacted by my unconscious bias.

I was ashamed to admit to myself that my unfounded assumptions got in the road and effectively became a block to learning.  I had decided not to listen to one person’s presentation because they appeared to be overweight (on the surface, an entirely non-rational omission).

However, once I unpacked my assumptions I came up with a rational basis for my decision.  My assumption stream seemed to go like this:

  1. a person who is overweight is not someone who has mastered self-management/self-control
  2. a person who has not mastered self-management cannot be someone who has developed a high degree of mindfulness
  3. I do not want to learn from someone who does not practise what they preach.

Besides the obvious unconscious bias in my decision to overlook this person, there are clear fallacies in my assumptions.  Firstly, someone being overweight may have nothing to do with self-management – it may be the result of a genetic condition.  Secondly, one cannot assume that if someone has not mastered one facet of their life, they have not achieved some level of self-management. Thirdly, a person who is overweight may be highly developed in mindfulness in many other arenas of their life and hence have a lot to offer someone like me who is still at the early stage of developing mindfulness.

After confronting my unconscious bias in my conversation with myself, I did listen to the person involved, who not only was an exceptional practitioner of mindfulness, but also taught others on a global basis.  So my assumptions almost created a block to learning for me.  Their presentation was rich and insightful, and I will certainly revisit it.

In a previous post, I mentioned the recommendation of Sakyong that we should regularly undertake a conversation with ourselves.  It is clear that this type of conversation can help us to identify our own biases and unfounded assumptions and realise how they impact on our learning and our personal effectiveness.

Patrick Chan, a member of the winning Canadian figure skating team at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, demonstrated that having a conversation with yourself can remove blockages to self-awareness and open the way to exceptional performance.  Chan had skated in the short program for the team’s event and had struggled with his first two jumps but went on to land the first two quads of his free skate.  His explanation of the transformation was reported as follows:

The Canadian admitted he was nervous and he “just had a conversation with myself” to get back his focus. “I achieved a big thing, which was to land the two big quads in one programme,” he said. “I’m going to hold this medal tight to me.” Chan, who won silver in the team and men’s singles events at Sochi 2014, is a three-time world champion but has never won Olympic gold until now. (emphasis added)

As we grow in mindfulness through having a conversation with ourselves on a regular basis, we can overcome the blockages to our learning and personal performance, whatever the arena of our activity.  We grow in self-awareness through this process as we encounter our unconscious biases, unfounded assumptions and emotional impediments.  We can also progressively build our self-management and self-control as we address these blockages.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of putevodnik on Pixabay

Realising the Benefits of Meditation

In an interview with Tami Simon as part of The Mindfulness and Meditation Summit, Dr. Richie Davidson spoke of the positive impacts of meditation both on our behaviour and our brain.  His presentation was based on the book, Altered Traits, that he co-authored with Daniel Goleman.

Among the many points that Dr. Davidson makes is the statement that there is a distinct increase in benefits gained for people who undertake retreats in addition to engaging in daily meditation practice. He surmises that the benefits are broader and more sustainable for retreat practitioners because we are invariably away from our normal daily environment and the associated reminders and triggers and are assisted by a leader who can guide us and provide feedback.

However, you do not have to go on retreat or undertake 10,000 hours of practice like full-time, contemplative monks, to realise the benefits of meditation.

What is important is sustaining practice – daily practice to build new habits and enhance our brain functioning.  The benefits grow with regularity of practice and the longer we sustain meditation practice in our lives.  So, the more experienced meditators are likely to gain greater benefits than those who persist only over a short period of time.

Scientific research has reinforced the positive impact of meditation on our behaviour .  We are better able to maintain focus and handle stress, are less reactive to triggers and more resilient in the face of difficult situations.  While we retain the capacity to experience the whole breadth of emotions [and may increase our capacity for expression of emotions], we are more in control of our response to these emotions.

A key behavioural change that has been evidenced in research is the reduction in “unconscious bias” and the negative impact of associated assumptions.  Dr. Davidson stated that the research highlights the fact that these particular changes “endure beyond the meditative state” and pervade a person’s life and way of being-in-the-world.

As a person practices meditation more and more, the positive after-effects become more enduring and habituated.  Dr. Davidson instanced the personal benefit of meditation for himself as a “reduction in volatility at work” in response to workplace triggers – a behavioural change readily acknowledged by his colleagues over time.

As we grow in mindfulness through sustained meditation practice, we are able to realise not only increasing benefits but also benefits that are more enduring and integrated into our daily behaviour and daily lives.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

The Power of Awareness

In an interview with Tami Simon, Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach share their insights on The Power of Awareness to Change Your Life.   In exploring these ideas, I will be building on my previous post based on Albert Flynn DeSilver’s ideas about developing mindfulness and awakening through writing.

Jack & Tara have developed together an online course on The Power of Awareness Mindfulness Training.   They each bring to the training discussion and resources, more than 40 years of experience in mindfulness and awareness practice and training .

The first question that exercises your mind when you hear about what Jack and Tara offer is, “What is awareness?”  It is not something that can be accessed by definition or thought alone, because it is an experience of a stillness within, a quiet place that precedes thought and sensation.  It’s that realisation that you, the whole person – not a part of you – is aware of your thoughts and sensations as you are experiencing them.  As Tara explains:

Awareness is the silence that’s listening to the thoughts or listening to the sound; it’s more prior to any of the felt experience through our senses…And you can begin to intuit that there is a space of knowing that is always here and that we are not always aware of it, but it’s here.

That is why The Awareness Training is highly experiential with guided exercises and personal journaling to make explicit the learning and develop deeper insights.

In summarising the ideas presented in this interview, I have identified two key areas that manifest the power of awareness.

Sense of self – changing the narrative

Both Jack and Tara shared what was happening for them prior to awareness training.  They discussed their negative thoughts and the stories they told themselves which served to diminish who they actually were and what they were capable of.   They spoke of the constraints of their own narrative and the expectation entrapment that locked them into particular patterns of thinking and behaviour.

They see awareness as creating freedom from habituated denigration of self and the realisation of a real sense of self and creative capacity.   They maintain that through developing awareness, we can change our self-deprecating narrative, as we step back from our thoughts and perceptions and allow our true selves to emerge.

Relationship building

As we grow in mindfulness and awareness, we are better able to identify and manage the space between stimulus and response.  We gain a deep insight into what we bring to a relationship and the associated conflicts – we become more aware of our habituated responses in a conflict situation.  We gain a clearer realisation of our self-talk, our tendency to defensiveness, our self-protection born of childhood experiences and our inattentiveness when experiencing conflicted emotions.

Added to this self-awareness, is a clarity about our projections and assumptions about the other person and their behaviour, increased capacity to pay attention to the other person and an openness to their needs and perceptions.

Awareness enables us to deepen our relationships, as it frees us from habituated thoughts and responses and opens up the capacity to listen empathetically and respond creatively.

So, as we grow in mindfulness and awareness, we discover our true self and its potentiality and are able to deepen our relationships through a stronger sense of self and a heightened sensitivity towards the other person in the relationship.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of  johnhain on Pixabay

Mindfulness – Start Small, Start Right Now

The benefits of mindfulness seem enticing – not the least of which are improved mental health, clarity of mind and calmness.

Yet the change from the habit of busyness seems such a big step.  How do you go from filling every moment with activity – designed to keep up with a racing mind – to the ability to stop and “be in the moment”, fully present to  what is happening around you?

The first step is to change your underlying assumption that busyness will get you what you want – achievement, happiness and success.  Unless you change your underlying assumption, you will not be able to sustain a change in your habituated behaviour – you will keep returning to old habits when under stress.

The second step is to “start small, start now”. These are the words of wisdom from entrepreneur and marketing guru, Seth Godin who writes a daily blog.  Seth’s advice is:

Start small, start now.

This is better than “start big, start later”.

One advantage is that you don’t have to start perfect.

You can merely start.

While Seth is writing in the context of internet marketing, the above advice has application to many facets of life, not the least of which is how to grow in mindfulness.

In an earlier post, I suggested that to sustain mindfulness practice, you can begin with “one breath at a time” – practising mindful breathing.  To start small, is better than not to start at all.  If you begin with one simple mindful practice that breaks your current routine, you will be able to persist and progressively grow in mindfulness.  Persistence then brings its own reward – increasing benefits and reinforcement of your new habits.

The secret is to find a mindful practice, and timing for that practice, that suits you.  Everyone is different, you need to find your own starting point – your next step.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Assumptions Build Walls Between Us

Assumptions about differences can build walls between us.  If we focus on what we assume are our differences, then we will emphasize what separates us, rather than what brings us together.  More often than not, our assumptions are wrong.

In one of his novels, After Dark, Haruki Murakami describes the experience of one of his key characters, Takahashi, who was required to attend and audit cases in the criminal court as part of his legal studies.  In the early stage of these visits to the court, Takahashi found that he could not relate to the people being charged with crime, their situation or their feelings – he would assume that “the ones on trial are not like me in any way”.

In speaking of this early experience of difference, Takahashi said, “Between the world they live in and the world I live in there’s this thick, high wall” (p. 96, emphasis added).

However, as he continued to attend the criminal court cases and listen to the testimonies and speeches, his assumption of the wall of difference between the accused and himself began to break down.  Takahashi describes this experience of the crumbling of his assumptions:

I became a lot less sure of myself.  In other words, I started seeing it like this: that there really was no such thing as a wall separating their world from mine.  Or if there is a wall, it was probably a flimsy one made of papier-mâché.  The second I leaned on it, I’d probably fall right through and end up on the other side.  Or maybe it’s that the other side has already managed to sneak its way inside of me, and we just haven’t noticed.  That’s how I feel.  It’s hard to put into words.(p.97)

His assumption of a wall of difference between the accused and himself completely broke down when one of the defendants was sentenced to death by hanging.  Takahashi found that he experienced a “deep emotional upset”, resulting in tremors going through his body and the inability to “stop shivering”.  In spite of himself, and his early assumptions about a lack of things in common with the accused, he experienced a deep level of empathy.

There is a famous video made in Demark that explores what we have in common, rather than the ways we are different.  The video, All That We Share, challenges our assumptions about differences and helps to break down the walls of intolerance.

 

As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop increased awareness about our assumptions that build walls between us.  Being mindful of the damage our assumptions can create, leads us to challenge these assumptions and break down the walls that divide us.

Cover image source: Courtesy of hbieser on Pixabay

Reframing Assumptions

Our assumptions play a major role in our lives.  They shape our perceptions, influence our emotions and affect our responses to people and events.

On one occasion, I was talking to a colleague who had been using a collaborative approach to undertake local economic development in a regional area.  He was telling me about a community consultation meeting that he had conducted on the Sunday before.  As he spoke, he became progressively more upset, agitated and frustrated.

When I asked him why he was so upset, he told me that the Mayor of the town had turned up to the meeting.  He then proceeded to share his negative perception about his attendance – “Why was the Mayor at the meeting?”, “Why was he getting in the road of our project?”, “What was he hoping to gain by being there?”

When I asked about the Mayor’s behaviour during his participation in the meeting, it turned out that he had participated constructively like everyone else present.  My colleague’s negative assumptions about the Mayor’s motivation and intentions were influencing his perception, his emotions and his response.

I suggested that he could actually think differently about the Mayor’s attendance – he could reframe his assumptions.  I said that I do not know of many Mayors that would spend an entire day on a Sunday, away from their family, to attend a meeting that was entirely optional. I suggested that the Mayor could have attended the meeting because he was genuinely interested in local economic development and community welfare.

After thinking this through, my colleague started to see the Mayor’s attendance as a positive thing – a sign of support rather than an attempt to sabotage his own efforts.  By challenging his assumptions, my colleague could reframe the event and the participation of the Mayor – he saw the person and the situation in a new light.

Our assumptions play out in every sphere of our lives – at work, at home, in the community – and operate at an unconscious level.  As we grow in mindfulness and inner awareness, we are more likely to become aware of our assumptions and the negative impact they can have on our perception, our emotions and our responses to people and events.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay

Reflection and the Art of Solving Jigsaw Puzzles

Our family has had a long-standing tradition of solving a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle whenever we go away on holidays for more than a week.

The collaborative endeavour of solving the jigsaw puzzle has a relaxing effect, builds relationships and facilitates conversation.

Recently, my wife and I went on a holiday and in line with our family tradition purchased a 1,000 word WASJIG? jigsaw puzzle. These puzzles are particularly difficult because the image on the box depicts the present scenario – the jigsaw puzzle itself reflects the same scenario at some future time.  So the image you are provided with is just a guide – and sometimes intentionally misleading.

When solving the jigsaw puzzle, it was particularly important to challenge your own assumptions – to change your assumptions about shape, colour or location of a puzzle piece (or sometimes, all three aspects).  Often when you got stuck, the way forward was to challenge one or more of your assumptions.  This challenge to assumptions was particularly aided by the reflections of the other person, e.g.”Could that piece go at the top, rather than the bottom”; “This looks like becoming a car, not a shop”; “There seems to be a crowd outside the train, have you thought of that to explain the missing pieces?; “Could those two connected pieces be placed vertically rather than horizontally?; “I think that we should sort the last 100 pieces by shape rather than by colour as we have them now.”

The reality is that we have limited perception – we often see what we want to see and often fail to see what is in front of us.  We also experience perceptual bias based on our own life experiences.  So it is important to reflect with others, to be open to perceptions and perspectives of other people, if we are going to move forward in whatever endeavour we are undertaking.

How often have you worked on a jigsaw puzzle and been unable to find a particular piece and someone walks past and says “this piece looks like it should fill the gap” (and they may have had no prior involvement in the puzzle solving process).  They are able to see the puzzle with fresh eyes and have no preconceived ideas or assumptions.

I was reflecting on our processes for solving this jigsaw puzzle and was reminded of the words of Reg Revans, the father of action learning, who suggested that really effective reflection requires challenging our own assumptions.  He also maintained that this challenge to our assumptions was achieved more often by reflecting with one or more others.  He suggests that when we reflect alone we can often reinforce our existing assumptions – when we reflect with others our assumptions can be open to the challenge of others.

The process of reflection has a strong relationship to mindfulness.  As we build our ability to reflect, we become more aware of the need to be mindful in the situation as an aid to reflection (e.g. “If only I had really noticed her reaction at the time, I could have done something about it!”).  It is difficult to reflect on what you have said or done, if you lack awareness at the time.  In a similar way, when we become more mindful through mindfulness practices, we are better able to reflect-in-action, to reflect on our own words and actions while we are in the process of saying and doing.  So, in the final analysis, reflection and mindfulness are mutually reinforcing.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com