Communication is vital to the survival of our species.
Our species' ability to develop language allowed us to convey complex ideas. It is one of the tools attributed to our evolution. From being able to communicate a warning from one nomadic group to the next: "hey there's a predatory beast lurking down by the river, don't go there, it's dangerous!" to "there's some delicious fruit bearing trees over that way," communication launched our species ability to avoid possible threats, to finding resources for nourishment.
Communication and imagination has allowed us to make great leaps in our evolution. From refining allopathic medical practices that have extended our health and longevity to the technologies that increase our world view. Communication is vital.
Communication can also cause our down fall, especially when utilized in a harmful or violent manner. From idle gossip (at the watering hole, aka the water cooler), quibbling, to direct verbal threats; harmful and spurious communication can lead to the deterioration of relationships, organizations and sense of community.
Why am I fascinated with communication this year?
Well, because if you know me pretty well, you'd know that I have a pretty short fuse. Something I've been working on for most of my adult life.
After talking with a friend about the challenges of marriage and parenting, mindfulness and living with intention, I sought out practices on mindful communication.
It's easy to communicate when things are great, when love and laughter both equally flow. But what happens when we encounter a situation that directly triggers our aversions? Or when we're under stress or under the influence of strong emotions?
Like anger, fear, frustration.
Introducing mindfulness and the application of 90 seconds.
I first heard of the 90 second rule from our nanny who told me that it only takes 90 seconds for a strong emotion to pass. Upon searching for more information, I discovered Pema Chodron's teachings on working with negative emotions. Chodron states that when we experience strong emotion, instead of resisting it or running away from it, we can pause and sit with it. The trick is to allow ourselves to fully experience the emotion without adding or getting "hooked" in by our stories. We literally get hooked, lined it by the bait our emotions until we've found that we've sunk into another situation where we've said or done something we later regret.
In Thich Nhat Hanh's book Anger, he states that anger is like a fire that will eventually burn out. However, this fire will continue to burn when we keep feeding it. To feed this fire takes an incredible amount of energy, which is why we usually feel depleted when we allow ourselves to keep feeding the flames.
Rather using the stories to fan the flames, can we allow them to burn out, burn bright and eventually cool down?
As Chodron states, we can more effectively communicate and catalyze change when we are coming from a place of calm, not from a place where we are heated up or righteously indignant.
Listening to dharma talks and reading books are an integral step in the right direction, however a cultivating a daily mindfulness practice fine tunes our organism's ability to cope when these moments do come up.
We can cultivate mindfulness by adding a dose of daily meditation. Even just a few minutes first thing in the morning before you launch yourself into your day can begin to set in new pathways in our patterns of thought.
Mindfulness practices teaches us how to pause and observe what arises. That little pause, the noting is part and parcel to a mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness practices teach us that what we are experiencing in the present moment is just IS. We don't need to chase away the negative emotions, or create labels for these emotions. Mindfulness shows us how we can sit with these emotions and acknowledge that what we are going through is part of our human experience.
When we notice that we are under the influence of a strong emotion like fear or anger, can we choose for a few moments NOT TO communicate? To take a really long deep breath, or two or ten until the moment passes, before we say something that we may later regret?
In theory it seems simple and easy but when we are in the heat of the moment, while our egos are clamoring for attention or a sense of justice, we may impulsively say or do things that we don't really mean.
So today I'm including three questions you can ask your self when you find that you're emotions may be getting the best of your ability to keep your mouth from spewing shit.
3 Questions for Non-Harmful Communication
1. Ask your self, is what you're about to say TRUE?
Truth is funny as we all experience through our own unique lens. When you are about to say something you know will impact and steer your conversation north or south, ask yourself first, is it really true? Does it pertain to what is happening right now? What purpose is your statement serving, is it for the benefit of your ego or for the benefit of the greater community?
2. Is it necessary?
Is what you're about to say necessary or relevant or is it a comment that's based on your own personal story or narrative? What purpose is your statement serving?
3. Is it kind?
Once a disagreement begins, it's fascinating how criticizing thoughts and old resentments bubble up to the surface. Sometimes those thoughts may reflect the truth of a situation, like a hurtful behavior your friend or partner repeats again and again. Can you pause and communicate your observation in a gentle non-harmful manner? Think about how you would speak to a young child or to a little puppy. We would not want to ever be mean or unkind to a young child or puppy but we know that we can be clear and direct in our communication. Apply this same gentle and direct principle and you will be met with less resistance.
These are the three questions that I continue to apply when I'm about to say some snarky shit or when I'm upset over something that's got me hooked into a story. While it hasn't turned me into a saint (maybe the next lifetime), it certainly helps me from spewing more things that I would otherwise say that doesn't serve those around me. Give it a try.
Also, If you have some other additional tips, advice, suggestions, please do drop a line.