Whenever human beings come together, communication happens. Paul Watzlawick, renown communication theorist, once said “One cannot not communicate.” Communication transcends the spoken word and expresses itself also in facial expression, gesture, posture, and tone of voice.
Communication happens instantaneously and is hard to plan. What we say, how we say it and why we say it, all matters.
It can be a challenge to communicate mindfully. How often do we experience that we enter into a conversation with relative calm and after only a few words feel agitated? How often do we stumble upon the same issue again and again, wondering why it still has the power to rob us of our peace of mind?
To know how important communication is for humans, can be soothing. In communication we define belonging, roles, expose needs and explore our impact on others. Humans are deeply social beings and communication touches upon the core of our sense of self and other.
I once heard a story about a Buddhist monk who lived in a cave in Thailand for 19 years in solitude. He hardly saw anyone within this period. The laypeople in the area provided him with everything necessary, hanging a bowl of food on a branch close to the cavern on a daily basis. The monk came to get it after they were gone. After all those years he started to experience an intense pain and went to see a doctor. When he returned to the monastery he originally came from, the other monks were curious to hear about the impact the long stretch of solitude had on him. The monk responded with deadpan humor: “It was a total waste of time.”
While this statement neglects the advantages of silence and solitude, it makes one thing clear: humans grow within the presence of humans.
In community life, in the daily haggles and negotiations, in living together friction naturally arises. Our capacities of friendship, compassion and equanimity get tested and prove themselves to be substantial only when they endure the presence of another.
It is thus crucial to explore into the dynamics of communication. The Buddha gave it much importance in practice. He saw it as an elementary part of living an ethical life.
How can we practice mindfulness of speaking, when we get lost so easily within communication with another?
As so often in our practice it is helpful to break down the complex into smaller components, which then can be meet with mindfulness. Playfully we make them the focus of our attention. Questions like these can support the inquiry:
Before speaking, can I pause for a second and explore into the prevalent attitude towards myself and the other? What shapes our relationship in this moment?
Why do I want to say something? What is my motivation? What drives the intention?
How present am I for the other? What topics, ideas, fantasies carry me away from just listening?
Exploring into the field of communication shows how intentions, attitudes and views impact the spoken.
Communication starts way before the first word is spoken. Moods and memories shape how talk and act. Mindfulness has the potential to reveal these dynamics and offers a freedom of action when else wise only impulsive reaction were possible.
This becomes obvious when we stay in silence for a while, for example on a meditation retreat. Here too, we are in community with others. And here too, communication takes place. Our preferences, fears and attitudes towards others get highlighted trough silence. An incredibly interesting field of exploration opens up in which unknown tendencies suddenly become obvious.
Communication is the vantage point for living together in a peaceful and supportive way. It is necessary to express ourselves and understand the other. It is a basic human need to be fully seen and known. To meet the other with presence and open-mindedness is a great gift – maybe one of the biggest we can make each other. It takes insight and practice to learn this skill. Mindful communication is the key.