You can tack the adjective “mindful” onto just about all the things humans do discover that someone on the internet is practicing it — mindful walking, mindful dating, mindful shopping, mindful gaming. Welcome to 2019.
That’s because mindfulness has become a movement. The concept describes a deliberate awareness of your thoughts, emotions, breathing, bodily sensations, and surroundings. Mindfulness isn’t about clearing your head; it’s about recognizing what you’re experiencing without judging it.
Apps like Calm and Headspace offer guided meditations that make practicing mindfulness super simple. (And the benefits of meditation have been proven.) But there’s no reason to limit mindfulness to 10-ish minutes of meditation time, great as that is. After all, the ultimate goal of mindfulness meditation is to develop tools (like greater awareness and self-acceptance) that will serve you in the other 99 percent of your day.
So, if you really want to practice mindfulness, bringing it to your interactions with others matters as much as bringing it to your breathing or eating. Here’s what mindful communication can look like.
1. Be present
During mindfulness meditation, you’re noting what’s happening in and around you. You hear the hum of the fan. You’re thinking about the text you forgot to respond to. Your arm itches. You recognize all of this, but you let it go. You just keep bringing your focus back to your breath.
Mindful communication looks similar. Your focus, though, isn’t on your breath; it’s on whomever you’re having a conversation with.
So, instead of keeping an eye on the TV or eavesdropping on the couple arguing in the booth next to yours (oops), you’re giving your full attention to the conversation. And when you catch your attention drifting, you just bring it back to the conversation.
2. Listen well
No matter whom you’re communicating with, listening well builds understanding and prevents conflict.
Mindful listening doesn’t just mean tuning out whatever background noise competes with a conversation, though. It means really hearing people — resisting the urge to cut someone off before he or she finishes speaking. It means focusing on what the other person says and means instead of thinking about how you’ll respond.
To make sure you’re understanding someone, try simply rephrasing what he or she has just said. This tells the speaker that they’ve been heard (which is affirming), and it also keeps you from thinking too hard about finding the right words to respond if that ever keeps you from being fully present in a conversation.
Nodding and keeping eye contact are nonverbal cues that indicate you’re listening. It’s no small feat, but putting your phone away signals this, too.
3. Be kind
Mindfulness teaches you to notice how you talk to yourself so that you become kinder to yourself. For example, whenever thoughts come up in meditation, you learn to return your focus to your breath without berating yourself for getting distracted.
You can bring this disposition toward kindness in conversations with others, too. Political and moral issues seem to divide people now as much as ever. But even disagreements over smaller-picture issues — like which direction to take a project at work — can raise tensions fast.
Notice how you react when you disagree with what another person has said. Kindness doesn’t mean never disagreeing with nor challenging others, but it does mean responding in a calm, considerate manner. So, instead of attacking the person, address the issue. This allows for better communication and fosters mutual respect more than quarreling ever will.
Yeah, this sort of response takes extra effort. It’s part of being a follower of Christ, though. You can reject opinions — but never people.
4. Reconsider the stories you tell
Chances are, you tell yourself stories about who you are. You may tell yourself you’re not likable, you’re not cut out for your job, or you’re not fit to be a parent, for example. Mindfulness encourages you to question where these stories came from. If these stories are neither true nor add value to your life, you can dismiss them and replace them with stories that do serve you.
This idea can help you reconsider the stories you tell about others. If you’re telling (or listening to) a story about another person, ask yourself these same questions about it: Where did the story come from? Is it true? Does it add value to the conversation?
Your answers may help you decide that a story sounds more like gossip than fact, so you realize the story doesn’t add value to the conversation, even if it is entertaining. Or maybe you can confirm the truth of a story, but you realize that sharing it would reveal someone’s fault or weakness without a serious reason to. So, better not to tell it. Chances are, it’s not the full story, anyway.
There’s a valid reason to ask these questions. Gossip kills reputations. As Pope Francis said, gossip “fills the heart with bitterness, and even poisons us.” Avoid this sin for your own sake — but also out of love for God and others.
Incorporating mindfulness into communication isn’t about becoming more chill or nonjudgmental. Mindful communication is about loving others through the practice of self-awareness. And in the end, being more aware of how you listen and speak can help you be Christ to others.