With the holidays upon us, it’s a good time to remember how to find joy in the things we love about our family and friends. Though we often associate communication skills with handling conflict (see this post for a few tips), mindful communication is about so much more. It can deepen friendships, strengthen collegial connections, and enhance intimate relationships so that we enjoy them more and receive their full benefit.
Human beings are social creatures. We depend on each other not only to meet our basic physiological needs, but for a wide range of relational needs tied to our sense of well-being, belonging, and satisfaction in life. Today we’re learning more and more about the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of healthy social connection. Strong social ties have been linked to increased immune function, longevity, and a host of mental benefits. One study even found that lack of social connection is more harmful to our health than smoking!
In this post, I’d like to share some tips and a guided meditation on how to deepen your relationships.
Presence is nourishing
The first and most essential aspect to enjoying our relationships is showing up more fully. You know the feeling of drinking water when you’re thirsty? Being with a good friend or loved one can have a similarly satisfying effect when we’re present. Mindfulness allows us to receive the nourishment of connection, to feel and appreciate it in real-time.
Much of mindfulness practice is focused inwardly, on learning to be present with our thoughts, emotions and sensations. We can extend this presence to the relational domain, to the lived experience of being with another human being. Called “relational awareness,” this powerful practice allows us to enjoy the mystery and vulnerability of being alive together. To explore this, see if you can keep a small amount of your attention present in your own body (maybe feeling your weight, or your hands) as you are aware of another person.
Notice the Good
As Rick Hanson famously wrote, “the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.” It’s easy to fault-find and dwell on the problems, inadequacies, or irritants in a relationship. It takes effort to notice what’s going well and dwell there.
Mindful Communication offers us powerful tools to identify the things we enjoy about one another and to receive their nourishment. Think of someone in your life who’s important to you. Then ask yourself, why? What is it about this person I appreciate? Take some time to reflect on what you value about this person. What qualities in them do you admire or respect?
Try the guided meditation below to explore this more.
One of the best ways to deepen our relationships is not only to notice the good, but to share it. Expressing appreciation can have an amazing effect on relationships: it nourishes us, uplifts the other person, and simultaneously strengthens our connection.
Most of the time, we settle for a meagre, “Thank you,” missing the full experience of expressing and receiving appreciation. We can enhance the potency of gratitude by focusing our attention on three areas, and sharing those with the other person: what they said or did, how it made us feel, and why.
Try to identify one thing this person has said or done in the last few days or week that you appreciate. Be as specific as possible. “When you said good morning and smiled…” “When you put your hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Nice work…” Then, share how you felt inside. Not your interpretations about how sweet or kind or generous they were being (which are simply positive judgments) but what moved in your heart? “I felt so happy… relieved… grateful… touched…”
Finally, tell them why. What matters to you about that? What did it touch inside? Was it about being seen? Being valued? Acknowledgment for your work or contribution? Knowing that you matter? Feeling understood? Tell this person what’s important to you about what they did.
This year, as the holidays approach, I invite you to bring more attention to the good aspects of your relationships. Notice the things that are going well, the actions, behaviors, and qualities you appreciate about others. And then, take the risk of letting them know. Open your heart and share some mindful appreciation. You might be surprised at just how good it feels!
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A version of this article was originally posted at Mindfulschools.org, a nonprofit organization training educators worldwide to practice and teach mindfulness.