I had an argument with a loved one, many years ago. It was a big argument. Not the little aggravating kind but the kind where no one is proud of their behavior afterward. I had been a student of yoga and mindfulness for a long time by then and I knew that I needed to take responsibility for my actions and my role in the relationship. I wanted a relationship with this person, I loved this person. I needed to invest somehow in the connection we shared. But, how? We didn’t get along well. We didn’t share many interests. What did I even want our relationship to look like? Not this, that’s all I knew.
I started doing some research into communication and found a book that changed my life and my mindfulness practice. The book, by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman is called Words Can Change Your Brain and it is one of my top 5 most recommended mindfulness reads.
The first clarifying point the authors make is that the words we use matter from a neuroscientific perspective. Compassionate Communication is so named because it activates calm feelings. When we use certain words, even if they are to clarify what we don’t mean, they can point our brains in the wrong direction. This, in turn, gets our brain to start activating our sympathetic nervous system responses. We will probably not notice but this will affect our ability to communicate.
So, how can practicing compassionate communication help you? How can this practice benefit your mindfulness practice? The practice of compassionate communication is like mindfulness practice for language. Language connects our inner and outer worlds, even when we are just talking to ourselves. When we practice observing our minds and bodies during communication ( which is the majority of our existence!), we learn there are a lot of ways our mind has been getting in the way of our objectives.
What did I learn about my relationship with my loved one and our communication? Well, for starters, some of the bad things I was feeling when we talked were because of my own behaviors. I noticed I was searching for approval in every conversation. I was trying to control every conversation to make sure I looked good. WOW, it was a lot of work. My brain was racing ahead in the conversations and so my body started to race to keep up. I wasn’t listening deeply; I was listening in search of the approval which my Ego thought would be satisfying. I also learned this is really common. Without practice, most of us have tons of conversational barriers. Our Ego tries to control every interaction we have in the world.
Learning to practice compassionate communication didn’t just help this one relationship, it also helped every relationship I have, including the one I have with myself. The practice of compassionate communication forced me to get to know myself more deeply and once I did. I could use that to ground myself. When my Ego tried to confuse the situation, I had tools to help me clarify and control my mind, brain, and body response. More than any other practice, learning these tools enhanced my ability to be mindful. Our ability to define our situation aides our ability to stay in the moment. The more general the terms, the bigger blanket we throw over a problem.
How can practicing Compassionate Communication help you?
learn to notice your barriers to connection and deeper understanding
identify your deepest values and learn to use them as anchors in conversation
Improve your ability to hear deeply
improve your relationships
remove stress and anxiety from daily interactions
clarify and define your thoughts ( which aide mindfulness)
express yourself more clearly
increase your chances of being heard by others
know yourself better
find your shadow ( places that need deep inner work)
accept when you will not be understood, and understand why
understand the neuroscience behind language and how conversations are affected by the nervous system
Words are powerful. They can change your brain, they can change your body, they can change your relationships, and they can change your perspective. They can change the moment. Practicing how you use them can change your life.