Vajra Blue

Mindfulness and Compassion. Understanding trauma in young people.

Speaking clearly – mindful communication in a modern world.

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What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind.

If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind, joy follows him as his own shadow.

Dhammapada 1:2

Man is not worried about real problems so much as his imagined anxieties about real problems.

Epictetus.

Our thoughts and speech reflect the emotional tone of our lives.

Our speech reflects our thoughts, which are often present as an internal, private dialogue. Our thoughts do not become clear until we give them substance by putting them into words, either as private self talk in our mind, or more publicly when we start to speak, or send a message over social media.

Words, however, are not the only things that leads to clear communication. Roughly 7% of the meaning of what we say is in tobe found in the words we use, the very much greater part of the message that we send, is found in the way we choose to say these words.

Depending on our tone of voice or body language we can make words mean their exact opposite. Because of this, it is necessary, when we speak, to use words that are carefully chosen, and wisely spoken, keeping in mind all the various ways in which they can be said. This gives us the best chance to accurately communicate the precise message that we wish others to hear.

Language – that is our choice of words, and the way we use them – is how we communicate with other members of the human race.  It is the way in which we are able to put our thoughts into words, and to successfully communicate them to other people, in sound, word, or images, that sets humanity apart from most other animals.

This ability can be used for both good and bad. Words have a certain magic to them and can be used to persuade as well as to inform.  Words can make us feel wonderful or tear us down and make us hate ourselves.

Tell them they are under threat and they will let you do anything.

Hermann Goering

It is for this reason that “right speech”, one of the steps on the Buddha’s noble eightfold path, has been adopted as  a precept by many Buddhists in their search to live a happy life. An intent to use our speech, in all its varied forms, to communicate accurately and helpfully in all that we do.

We have all been in situations where we have believed that we have spoken clearly, only for other parties to our conversation to get the wrong end of the stick, leading to misunderstanding and strong feelings being aroused.

It can be very frustrating to find ourselves arguing with someone else, who appears to be saying the exact opposite of the things we are saying, only for it turn out that they share the same opinion as we do, but are using different words to describe the concept that we are arguing about.

Speech, in the buddhist context, can have a very wide interpretation. It can cover everything from our choice of words, to the example we set to others, in the way we live our lives.

Whether we like it or not, we are communicating, consciously and unconsciously, in many ways, all the time.

  • Facial expression.Do we look interested in what is being said, are we smiling, frowning or even looking indifferent to what is being said?
  • PostureHow do we stand or sit?  Are we leaning forward or fidgeting?
  • Gestures. How do we move our hands or head, are we nodding to show interest or agreement, yawning etc.?
  • Body position.  Are we looking at the other person or looking away, are we right in front of them or turned away?
  • Eye contact.  Are we looking at the other person as we talk or are we staring off into space as if we can’t wait to be somewhere else?
  • Physical contact.  Do we touch the other person to give them a pat on the back or shake their hand?
  • Nearness.  How close do we sand to other people>  Each of us has our own preferred bubble of personal space, and can feel uncomfortable if others invade it.
  • Personal presentation.  Have we taken the time to make ourselves presentable?
  • Non-verbal aspects of speech.  Tone of voice, loudness, pitch, speed, the stress we give to words and our timing in saying them.

These other aspects of language are called metacommunication. These are the elements that offer a context to what we say, and provide additional information for the listener, who is trying to interpret what we are saying.

Such metacommunication provides the other 93% of the meaning that others take from our speech.  This is particularly true when the things that we say are in conflict with our actions.

One of the things that humans are very good at is understanding the hidden message behind communication, even when we think we are hiding our true feelings effectively.

The old saw that “actions speak louder than words” is not without a basis in the real world.

We are advised to guard the gates of the senses.  This means that we are careful about the things we expose  Our brains to in the way of stimulus. It is reasonably easy to monitor the traditional five senses, and to apply our own version of parental controls before we allow them access to our minds.

In the buddhist world view, consciousness is regarded as another sense. It is much harder to control our thoughts and feelings, many of which arise in response to our bodies’ well developed systems for responding to perceptions of possible threat.   Both our perceptions and emotional responses exert a strong influence on our world view, and affect the automatic responses we make to our environment.

Mindfulness practices come into their own as tools for monitoring our thoughts and feelings.The awareness that they produce allows us to minimise opportunities for miscommunication in our daily lives.  We can communicate inaccurately either because we speak our minds out of turn, or because of strong emotions generated by the interaction of our current situation and  past experiences.

Mindfulness can help us to develop increasing awareness of  both our motives and purpose in wanting to say a particular thing, helping us to avoid speaking unwisely or unhelpfully.

There are several questions that we need to consider before we start to talk.

  • What is our hidden agenda?
  • Are we talking about reality?
  • Is our current communication about what is happening in the world at this precise moment?
  • Are we chasing after a fantasy, or expectation that we have about what is being discussed?
  • Is it all about the things that we hope might happen?
  • Are we projecting our aspirations on to someone else?
  • Are we projecting our fears and personal hang ups on to someone else?
  • Are we making assumptions about how others feel, or about their motives, that are not based on what they say or do?

Mindfulness helps to settle the mind and to increase our awareness of what is going on in our heads. We can then watch our emotional state and gain freedom from living a reactive life. One in which we respond to our feelings, often based in events that happened a long time ago in another place, and not responding to the world as it is happening around us in the moment.

Just because various emotions, desires, and thoughts arise within our minds, does not mean that we have to act on them. We can instead, use the insight that we gain from mindful awareness to understand our inner worlds.  We can then use this knowledge of the way our minds function, to create a wider space between the stimulus and our response to it.  This helps generate greater freedom for us to choose how we wish to act or speak from moment to moment.

Awareness is a tool for change.

If we are in the dark about the workings of our minds, then they we can be taken by surprise. We will respond in inappropriate ways to what is happening around us.  If we can catch our angry, sad, rejected, or other feelings earlier then can redirect their energy in other directions.  We can then choose to respond out of compassion for the other, or bring loving kindness to bear on the situation.

These positive feelings can be directed at ourselves as well as towards the other, enabling us to have constructive and more positive communication.

Should we become aware of a strong negative emotional presence in our mind, then we can use meditation practices to generate much stronger positive emotions in our lives.  If we have well formed positive emotional states, then we will find it easier to control and redirect our anger, or other unskillful emotional states.

This means that there will be much greater emotional connectedness in our relationships with other people. Relationships that are based on the many things that we share in common, and not focussed on divisive differences.

A useful link for all meditation needs.
Www.wildmind.org
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Author: SandySB

Child and adolescent psychiatrist. Parent. Blogger.

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