Mindful Speech, and Silence

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Mindful listening means being truly and fully “in the Present,” attentive within the immediacy of a communication Moment; not thinking about what you will say next, not fixated on what was just said.

One basic, fun exercise that might help you to be more Mindful in the Moment is to give yourself the grace to experience five minutes (or more, but few can go this long) without using language, at all. That means: “Do not talk, do not think, for thinking is but talking in one’s head” (from “Zen and Now”, a 1970’s documentary). During this language free respite, if someone talks, do not decipher what they are saying. If you pass a written sign, do not focus on it or decode it. Quiet the mind even while you move through nature or your everyday environment.

I start an Introduction to Linguistics class every year with this 5 Minute assignment of not using language. Students tells me it allows them to understand language—the human condition to a large extent, yes?—in a new light.  What are you without language? You are more OPEN to the immediacy of the Moment.  When you Listen Mindfully, you can extend this exercise by aiming to clear your mind while the other person is speaking. Pause before you reply, allowing what you just heard to filter deeply through your consciousness. Allow that new input to be processed before you respond. I find that if I take the time to practice this degree of Mindfulness in a conversation, I and my interlocutor may be amazed and surprised at the creative directions our conversation…or its absence even…might take.

Which brings up another aspect of communication that we often overlook: Silence.  Silence is a big part of every conversation or communication, though we Anglo Americans anyway tend not to recognize or to use it as such. In many cultures, for example notably among the Quakers and Amish and among Apache and Navajo Native Americans, silence is a communicative form of expression, an art all its own. Quakers aim to speak sparingly and when they do speak, to be a vehicle only for the most humble expression of divine love and simplicity. Apaches and Navajos know when not to speak, allowing any potentially conflictual exchange to be mediated and tempered by silence. American Anglos tend to be overly talkative, seen from one of these other cultural perspectives. It is as if we feel a need to crowd the air with noise to avoid the embarrassment of too much silence between us. But what are we missing in the interstices? Try sharing a meal or an hour of pure silence with a loved one—no TV allowed!

Each culture has its own conventions about communication, and we learn these conventions by the time we are able to talk. These conventions help us to hold a conversation according to the norms of our community. We also develop patterns of communication within our family, at school, or at the workplace. You can see these patterns or constraints most clearly when you consciously “violate” a convention. Try driving up to a McDonald’s window, for instance, and ask for a spinach salad, or a medium rare prime rib dinner. That’s a mild example. There are rules, norms and conventions for communication—some call them discourse scripts—for just about any kind of situated talk. Who can speak how, to whom, under what circumstances, and to what effect, are basic questions that define the sociolinguistics of communication.

My point with these examples is this: if you want to achieve Better Endings in your communication overall, whether for writing or for genuinely improving a relationship, first aim to understand what you DO NOW, in order to decide what you would like to be doing. If you find yourself overly constrained or habitual in your communication style or in “rules” of communication you have grown up with, try changing those conventions, mindfully, with positive, conscious INTENTION.

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Changing a communication pattern, style, or convention reflects and can also establish a change in consciousness. Understanding and then changing a pattern of communication in a relationship can change that relationship, “for Good”!

I look forward to your Comments, Insights and Stories! As always, I wish for you Mindfulness, and Joy!

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