This time of year, when Valentine's Day is on the calendar, may highlight thoughts about relationships. Successful relationships of all kinds benefit from our ability to keep our hearts and minds open to possibilities for connection. This can be inherently vulnerable, but we don't need to be perfect people to have closeness and satisfying relationships. With mindfulness we can navigate our relationships with greater skillfulness and ease. This includes becoming more connected to ourselves, which is crucial in order to connect with another. One breath or pause in the moment can make all the difference.
Joy and Vulnerability
True connection with others can be a great source of joy. It may bring life meaning in ways both simple and profound. It can also tap into a sense of vulnerability. Sociologist Brené Brown, in an Oprah interview on Super Soul Sunday, said that one’s experience of joy can be one of the most difficult and terrifying experience we may have as humans.” Joy can precipitate a fear of losing what is most precious to use, sometimes characterized by a feeling that the “other shoe is going to drop.” This kind of fear -- of the unknown, of rejection, of our hopes being dashed or falling through, can happen in a split second. With a mindfulness practice, we may catch the flavor of that experience -- and inquire within. What is happening now? What is really happening now? Meditation teacher Christina Feldman once said, “Most moments are safe.” What a powerful thought. If most moments are safe, might this fuel our courage to risk opening our hearts? To stay open to vulnerability? To move through the uncertainty of what the next moment may bring, and fully live, here and now? The future presents unlimited possibilities. As Jon Kabat-Zinn reflects, the next moment is as close as your next breath.
"What a powerful thought. If most moments are safe, might this fuel our courage to risk opening our hearts? To stay open to vulnerability? To move through the uncertainty of what the next moment may bring, and fully live, here and now?"
Mindfulness of the body is one of the “first foundations of mindfulness” and connection with ourselves on this level is an important resource for connecting with others. Our bodily experience of relating with another may not always be evident, but it is often reflected in our use of language. We may talk about feeling a heart connection with someone, or a sense of someone being warm or cold. We talk about having a “gut feeling” about things. Paying attention to our embodied experience can be a great anchor for mindful presence in a way that benefits relationships. With mindfulness we can ask ourselves questions like, “What am I feeling or sensing now?” We can pay attention to our own or another’s body language, tone or actual words. There may be a sense of our own emotional response -- which is generally a combination of mental and physical experiences upon which we may place a label of “fear” or “happiness,” etc. What our thoughts do with that information can contribute to what happens next relationally. Do we open to joy and the possibilities for connection and enrichment? Mindful pauses where we reconnect with ourselves can put us in touch with our essential experience. The feedback we get from our bodies can help determine how we engage in a mindful response.
"Our bodily experience of relating with another may not always be evident, but it is often reflected in our use of language. We may talk about feeling a heart connection with someone, or a sense of someone being warm or cold. We talk about having a “gut feeling” about things."
The Mindful Pause
In an instant, our interpretation of another’s behavior may influence a series of choices that lead to connection or disconnection. A mindful pause - even a fraction of a second - can illuminate awareness of judgment or analysis. This might involve considering that perhaps that we don’t actually know what another person is thinking or feeling at the moment. We can become more aware of our interpretations of another’s behavior or body language and instead be present to our own experience: thoughts, emotions or sensations. With mindfulness, we can move past the “story” about the relationship and connect with what is really here between us in the moment. We also can simply be present, mindfully listening, allowing there to be a pause between another’s speaking and when we jump in with our own ideas or opinions. Sometimes mindful listening and giving someone our full, complete, attention, is one of the greatest gifts we can give another. This can also help us cultivate a spirit of generosity that can also pervade other relationships and how we live in the world.
"In an instant, our interpretation of another’s behavior may influence a series of choices that lead to connection or disconnection."
Making Mindful Choices
Nourished by mindfulness, our relationships can become more and more conscious and fulfilling. Mindfulness draws on the power of awareness to illuminate the mundane moments: we can catch those moments of joy in relationship and move closer toward them instead of shutting down. Staying connected to ourselves through awareness of things like thoughts, emotions and our embodied experience can anchor us in a sense of presence. What a gift to both ourselves and others! We may open our own hearts, and also be aware of when we feel them closing. Moment to moment, we make choices. We can move toward connection or alternately choose to not go there -- which is another option that may feel appropriate. The point is - there is a choice. One infused by mindfulness supports our own well-being as well as positive relationships. In this way, mindfulness practice can be far-reaching. Through the ripple effect, our moment to moment mindfulness may benefit the lives of many, even people we may never meet.