The practice of listening without striving: Mindful communication
I have always considered myself to be a good listener. Since I am a psychologist, listening is something I have to do quite often in my daily work. I have been trained during my studies to listen in an active way, therefore showing the client or the patient that I am listening. For this, body signals and gestures such as nodding, or stablish eye contact are important. As a result, this has been for me the definition of a good listener. During sessions with patients I find myself completely embedded in what they are telling me, and at the same time my brain is working to stablish connections, patterns of conduct, spotting fusion with thoughts, unexpressed anger or subtle emotions. During individual or group sessions I can say I listen with effort, with my whole body. This is how I ended up finishing up a day of work with acute pain in my shoulders and back.
Recently I took part in a training for Mindfulness teachers in Amsterdam. It was a great training where I learned a lot. One of the modules I liked the most was precisely about mindful communication. The teacher started by sharing her own feelings at that moment: ¨I feel a bit nervous because this is a new group, and I have never taught via Zoom¨. I appreciated the sincere words coming from someone we must consider an expert. She asked us to share how we were feeling, and she listened in a kind and what seemed effortless way. First, I found myself judging her ¨is she really listening, why is she so silent? ¨
The second part of the class started, and we were instructed to meet ¨virtually¨ in pairs and tell the other person what we felt in our body and our minds at that moment. The person listening was instructed not to do or say anything, not with words, not with the body, no answer needed. When my partner was talking and I was listening in that way, letting go of the effort of ¨active listening¨, of nodding, of asserting, of reacting -of the automated behavior that we do while talking to someone- I felt completely liberated. But most importantly, I felt that I could listen better: I observed gestures in the face of the other person, her eyes and where did she gaze. I noticed the emotion in her words, in her tongue, in her throat. I let go of all effort and I discovered a completely new way of listening.
At the end of the session I understood that the teacher was embodying the very definition of mindful communication and listening. She was communicating with awareness and letting go of the automatic pilot that we switch on when we are listening or talking. She allowed silence to appear and to stay. She listened with her whole being, with grounded effortlessness and profound attention and compassion.
Even though I still find myself communicating in autopilot, the practice of mindful communication taught me that another way of relating with each other and with clients is possible, and that I have it in me. All of us have it in ourselves. That is the marvel of Mindfulness.