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Mindful : October 2016
into a natural state of presence, without a lot of effort. And it began to have rippling effects in their lives. While Marv continued to emphasize the importance of consistent silent medita- tion practice, especially as a support to these relational practices, he knew by the students’ responses that he was on to something. Of course he was not the only one experi- menting with such practices. We know many other teachers, colleagues, and friends who have pioneered these types of practices, and over the years we have been influenced by different approaches ranging from within the mindful- ness community and the therapy world, to work- shops on intimacy. What we have discovered is relational mind- fulness practices allow for a two-fold process. A natural, effortless mindfulness can arise and be sustained through these practices, coupled with a deep exploration of our inner life, all facili- tated through the presence of a compassionate witness/listener. When a person gives their full presence to another, without jumping in or trying to fix or change the other’s experience, remarkable things can happen. And through the quality of attention given to another, intimacy is cultivated. People feel seen, understood, even in a significantly short time. Sometimes we prac- tice these dyad exercises for only a minute and a half and yet people report intimacy, connection, and depth. So how do we practice it? Learn to Listen Here’s what I notice about listening these days. Mostofusarenotsogoodatit.Whatdowe typically do when we’re listening? Let’s put aside the increasing incidence of people on their smartphones Instagramming or texting when you’re trying to tell them something important. Everyone does other (sometimes) subtler and equally annoying things: We cut people off; we jump in and try to “fix” people. We turn the conversation toward us since even though what they are telling us is important; when the same thing happened to me last Thursday it was kind of amazing and just wait till you hear how I handled it! We’re reactive and lost in our reactions instead of truly listening. Or we appear to be listening but our mind isn’t truly on it: Now was that dress white and gold or blue and black?... oh, what were you saying? Yet we’ve all had the experience of being listened to by a good listener. There is a palpable result: we feel heard and understood and truly 1 Give the speaker your full attention. This is easier said than done, but simply requires an intention to do so and a bit of persistence. We can offer our presence in a relaxed way, just being there for another. Mindfully focus on the person. Let them be your main object of awareness. 2 Use your body to help you stay present. Our body is an incredible doorway into the present moment. Our mind can be anywhere: past, future, lost, reactive, spaced out, daydreaming, ruminating, an- gry, anxious...but our bodies are always in the present mo- ment. If we can remember to bring our minds into our bod- ies—just feel a body sensation or two—while we are listening, we have immediate access to the present moment. 3 When your attention wanders away (and it will) simply return it to the present moment, which means listen- ing to them. This guideline is analogous to how we practice our sitting meditation: We fo- cus on our breathing or what- ever is our main object, and when our mind wanders—and it always wanders—we gently, but firmly, return our atten- tion to our breath. This aspect of the technique should be familiar to anyone who prac- tices mindfulness meditation. Guidelines for Mindful Listening seen. That person may know nothing about mindfulness, but they are a mindful listener. The guidelines above may be basic, but people have to practice them to discover what will work best for each individual. Some people take a mindful breath from time to time. Some people occasionally notice their feet touching the ground, or their hands on their lap, or their back against the chair. Any physical sensation that can be easily noticed and returned to will work. For some people it might be a continuous awareness, however, for most people it serves as an intermittent reminder to instantaneously come back to the present. When I’m playing Ramona, I use my body to help me focus. I keep my attention on my daughter, and when I notice feelings of boredom arising, I note them—“ there’s boredom”—then return to my center while voicing Ramona’s lat- est escapade. → October 2016 mindful 75 insight