Archives for posts with tag: mindful discourse

Questions are powerful. Asking them often seems more valuable [to me] than insisting on answers. It’s the questions that redirect my attention from one thing to another. Questions fired off one after the other without time to answer quickly find me feeling backed into a corner, or attacked and frustrated. Questions themselves are not to blame for any of that; it’s how they are used, and with what intent. If I am listening, they can also quickly alert me that I am being misunderstood. I am learning to practice deep listening even when I feel emotionally attacked, or unexpectedly cornered by someone else’s aggressively expressed agenda. (I’m not saying I find it easy, but I often find it successful for putting challenging discourse back on a civil, comfortable foundation.) The most interesting thing about practicing listening deeply is that I end up… listening. Hearing more. Understanding more. Feeling more compassionate and level-headed. Feeling empowered and safe. Once I’m in that place, it becomes a simple thing to ask a question. No animus, no aggression, no passive-aggressive tit-for-tat punishment or emotional bullshit; I am able to ask a reasonable, compassionate, interested question that may actually result in needs being met, and a greater shared understanding being reached. It’s the whole point of a question, actually.

Who's 'right'? The ducks or the waiting cat crouched in the grass?

Who’s ‘right’? The ducks or the waiting cat crouched in the grass?

Questions are powerful. My results vary, of course, because sometimes it is the very feeling of power, itself, that has fueled whatever drama of the moment exists between human beings – and some people don’t want to ‘give up their power’, and perceive any power in anyone else’s hands as a direct threat to their own. It’s a weird sort of emotional greed. I don’t know quite what else to think of it. Fearfulness at its core, probably – I’ve been so terrified of being powerless, myself, that a single question directed with insightful compassion directly at the heart of whatever was truly bothering me could cause real rage; being visible and understood wasn’t what I was after, I only wanted to feel powerful (and I was, in that moment, willing to get there at the expense of someone else’s feeling of emotional safety). I find it, now, a very unhealthy approach. Giving up needing to ‘be right’, giving up needing to feel powerful (not the same thing as feeling empowered!) and practicing authenticity, self-acceptance, and awareness are important stepping-stones to being able to listen deeply (practicing, practicing!), and ask questions with more compassion, and without attacking (also requiring practice).

If I feel flooded, how do I find firm footing to maintain a feeling of safety?

If I feel flooded, how do I find firm footing to maintain a feeling of safety?

Based on careful observation, the vast majority of disagreements are not at all what they appear to be, and it seems rare that participants in dialogue have actually taken time to ensure they have shared definitions of terms, respected fact-based ground rules for the discussion – and a shared purpose in asking and answering their questions. Conversation is so much more pleasant and fulfilling when it is built on sincere connection and genuine receptivity to another person’s thinking. I’m not much interested in arguments, they take time away from intimacy, affection, and connecting deeply with ones fellow humans. This journey is too rich for strategic bullshit, cautious diplomacy, and game-playing! There are stories to tell, adventures to share, parables to teach with, and love notes to slip past the rigidity of our work lives – all so much more important than arguments built on strategy, mud-slinging, and bogus assumptions, all seeking to persuade rather than to learn, grow, or inform. Opening the door to something more sometimes takes little more than a question.

Are you okay?

Are you okay? How are you feeling? What do you need that I can provide?

Unfortunately, questions are also handy emotional weapons. What a shame. What a waste of precious mortal time. I am learning to face such attacks with a new tool; I listen. I’ve stopped focusing on delivering an immediate answer ‘to defend myself’; if I feel attacked, defending myself is probably pretty pointless, because there is something more going on. Instead, I remind myself that this other human being made not have been fully frank with their intent, their needs, or the purpose of their question. They may not have a similar understanding of the topic being discussed as I do, myself. I listen. I take a deep breath – or several – and listen. I am learning – and practicing – letting go of that attachment to ‘being right’ that is so often part of this very human experience, and reminding myself not to take this other human being’s experience at all personally. I listen more. I am learning – and practicing – talking less. It turns out that it is not at all painful to listen. It sucks to ‘wait to talk’, however, so learning to listen (practicing!) requires a commitment to some verbs, and considerable beginning again. (I interrupt rather chronically, partially because I have a brain injury that makes it harder not to, and partially because I need more practice not interrupting.) I find it helpful, when listening deeply, to ask a question when it is clear that a response is expected; this can help me avoid hijacking a conversation in progress with my own agenda, when the person speaking actually has more to say. 🙂

Am I understanding your words correctly? Do you mean what I think I heard?

Am I understanding your words correctly? Do you mean what I think I heard?

I’m definitely not saying that my words lack value, or that I don’t also want and need to be heard, just that it seems pretty reasonable that we all feel that way, and there does seem to be a woeful shortage of real listening going on… if no one is really listening, how will anyone at all feel truly heard, truly visible, or truly connected?

Will I find balance between listening, and questions?

Will I find balance between listening, and questions?

I have the evening to myself tonight, according to the calendar. No idea what I’ll do with it. Paint? Read? Play? Maybe take a few quiet moments and really listen to my own questions? Questions are powerful – and I value feeling heard.

I have goals. I have practices that I have confirmed (through practicing) work well to meet my needs over time. I make choices, and changes, that tend to keep me on track toward achieving my goals, meet my needs over time, and build a beautiful life with a foundation in sufficiency, contentment, day-to-day ease, and my Big 5 values (Respect, Reciprocity, Consideration, Compassion, and Openness). Generally, this all works out pretty well… although I find I also need to be firm with myself about managing ‘distractions’.

Sometimes the things that seem to be holding me back are just shadows of things; they have only as much power as I give them.

Sometimes the things that seem to be holding me back are just shadows of things; they have only as much power as I give them.

Everyday distractions are things like internet haters and trolls, OPD, media over-stimulation and marketing, the daily stress and tedium of employment, or becoming emotionally invested in someone else’s narrative. Sometimes my own libido is distraction enough, other times a touch of ennui or fatigue can throw me off course. My go to solution for these distractions, most of the time, is to look away, or walk on. It’s hard to do sometimes when people are so skilled at (and committed to) developing really engaging click bait, or have really well-developed skills at baiting people into becoming emotionally invested in the offered distraction. It’s not a coincidence that the stress levels of everyday life are so much higher for many people ‘than they used to be’ – the internet is a powerful tool for knowledge and connection, but it also drives a lot of stress (more through the distractions than through the legitimate valued content). People openly bully each other to share interest in numerous otherwise worthy causes; the bullying costs them any chance of me taking an interest, personally; I will not be bullied into choosing what matters to me.

I often find that reducing my stress level quickly is most easily done by disconnecting from the social media web, shutting down the streaming data pouring into my head space, and finding my way to stillness. It works in practice as well as on paper. This morning, being as human as I am, I found myself distracted from what works – by an article on the internet about how meditation doesn’t work! Oops. Well, yeah, I’m still human, and I am emotionally invested in these practices that are working so well for me. Feeling attacked by the writer’s opinion and observations, I felt myself getting sucked into the drama cycle; I took the bait. I also spit it out and moved on with my day, without further delay, having recognized that I was being baited.

A helpful practice, indeed.

A helpful practice, indeed.

It can be frustrating to feel attacked by someone else’s differing opinion, or experience. I am easily moved to want to share my own success, or my differing path. There’s only so much sharing that can be done, before I have become… a distraction. If I am having to foster, persuade, advertise, argue, reinforce, or support my experience beyond simply sharing it and citing my references, I have become a distraction on someone else’s journey. They choose their own path, wherever it may lead them, and they choose their own goals, their own practices, and determine the nature of their own successes and failures. I can’t really help with that, and if I find myself seeking to persuade, I have already been blown off course, myself; my writing isn’t about persuading you that I am right (about anything). I’m not here to convince, to argue, to persuade, or to map a more direct route; we are each having our own experience. I am my own cartographer, but I am not creating a map that can be relied upon by anyone else; it leads only to my own destination. I share some practices that work for me – and caution that your results may vary. This is not about ‘winning’, and it is not a competition.

Most of the time, the opinions and experiences of others, however they are expressed, are not truly an attack on anyone else. More likely that even the most aggressively confrontational narratives are less an attack on others than they are a defense against a perceived attack in the prior experience of the person delivering the narrative. Compassion is helpful, for me, and I often find that it allows me to be sympathetic, and open to understanding, without feeling pressured to commit to agreement, or to condone poor choices. It isn’t necessary for me to resolve every misconception or misunderstanding I see expressed around me; we are each having our own experience, and I don’t have any reason to expect that I will share every detail of someone else’s experience, or understand it in similar context. I have reached a point where it is enough, for me, to recognize differences, and accept those as having the potential to impact shared understanding. I make an effort to define my terms clearly, cite references (even in conversation) and accept when a discussion can go no further due to ‘magical thinking’ or very human impediments to reason (one cannot rationally argue with ‘belief’ – a believer has already acknowledged that their opinion has no provable basis, and that proof is not their concern.). I find it a comfortable fit to simply walk away from discussions that are impeded by a lack of reason, without finding it necessary to attack the other person; their opinions have consequences, and no further action is required from me. Attempting to continue the discussion as it spirals into argument is just one more distraction; there is no knowledge to be gained, and argument does not improve my quality of life.

For my own sanity, I make an effort not to cling to beliefs, and to stay current on new science and new knowledge – information increases, changes, develops over time. Staying current requires the use of verbs, and it is helpful to be able to determine whether a catchy headline is click bait, or worth my attention. (Hint: most often it is merely click bait, and an unworthy distraction.)

Finding sufficiency and contentment in what is, is enough.

Finding sufficiency and contentment in what is, is enough.

Yesterday I took a break from the digital world to relax, take care of me, and get some rest. I spent the day writing, doing yoga, and watching a show recommended by my traveling partner – and napping. I did quite a bit of napping. (I must have needed the sleep.) This morning I woke refreshed, and in much less pain, and mostly ready for another work week. Totally worth the time taken to take care of me, although I did very few of the tasks on my ‘to do list’ for the weekend. There’s no guilt there. These days, taking care of me is always at the top of my list of things to do. 🙂