Surprising as it may seem, communication is not about using the right words at the right time. Communication is much more than this - it's about what goes on inside us when we interact with others.
While we're affected by what happens around us, it's the state of our own inner world that really defines our communication.
Since meditation and mindfulness is increasingly well-known, this month-following the UK's first Mindfulness at Work Conference-we explore one of the ways in which meditation and communication overlap.
'Meditation' happens naturally
It's a natural part of being human that, every now and then, we become aware of ourselves, uniquely in this very moment. We turn within, and check to see how the world looks and feels from our own, private perspective. Whatever we call it (and people have different words for this), it's something we all do. So what does it really mean to say we 'meditate'? And how can we be sure we're helping ourselves by doing it?
What is meditation?
'Meditation' usually means that we consciously give space to this natural impulse to pause and look within. The point is that in meditation, we're choosing to do this. Whatever approach we use to do it, we take a moment... moments ... minutes... the time we need to tune in, and pay attention to what's within us.
Is meditation a 'working ground'?
Sometimes people talk about meditation as a working ground-where we 'work on the mind with the mind'. We strive to become more focused, more mindful, more kind - we even strive to become more relaxed. But the idea of 'working' in meditation has its dangers.
'Working' on our meditation implies that something needs to be worked upon; even that there's something wrong or lacking inside us; something that needs to be fixed. It may suggest we can tone up our embarrassing, flabby inner selves in much the same way as we tackle a work-out in the gym.
When even relaxing is a chore
This attitude springs from our efficient, competent, active self. Yet this mind-set has consequences. Sometimes, even the things we do to bring calm and well-being become something else to work at, to fit in, to do - or something to 'fail' at doing.
If we're trying to relax, our ability to diagnose problems and drive outcomes are not the tools we need. In fact, they are the very tools we need to put down... No wonder people say they find it 'hard to relax'!
Losing perspective in communication
The same is true in communication. A working attitude can cause difficulties. The impulse which sends us into solution mode may also get in the way.
Before we've discovered what's going on more widely, we're making analyses and forming suggestions. Before we know what our feelings are telling us, or what our needs are, we're planning a solution. Instead of really listening to another person, our own ideas are spinning round our heads, and popping out of our mouths. When we do this, we communicate without having a full picture. That's when our words are least likely to land well.
Take a break! Have a holiday!
Meditation can improve both our well-being and our communication, because it gives us a way to include and accept all our inbuilt tendencies in a helpful way.
The trick is to have a holiday attitude. What we need to do is to sit back - to listen, to watch, to sense, to feel - to be with whatever is there, just as it is. By doing this, we gradually understand the conditions we need, uniquely and individually. We learn how to give time to ourselves, so that we can unfurl naturally into whatever our experience brings.
Enjoying what comes
This holiday attitude is worth cultivating! On holiday, we have space to meet what comes with interest and curiosity. This brings a natural kindness and warmth to our inner world. We're more organic, able to go with the flow; to open up to our experience as it unfolds around us - as it does, at every moment.
And as we bring more gentleness and tolerance into our inner landscape, our communication changes too.
On one hand, we communicate with ourselves in a different way. We're more able to welcome even the judgmental voices that come our way, telling us that we're 'doing it all wrong'. These voices have their own stories, their own reasons. On holiday, we have time to listen even to those. And when a critical voice is fully heard, it stops being critical.
At the same time, we communicate less critically with others. When we can say, 'hello', fully, to whatever happens inside us - that's when we can say, 'hello', fully and effectively, to whatever goes on outside us. This is when meditation and communication truly blend.