As human beings, we have a fundamental need for belonging. Although there are individuals who crave infinite solitude, the great majority of us do rely on others: There is no doubt that we are social creatures. Yet social relationships, whether romantic, familial, or friendly, can be tough domains to navigate.
Some people challenge us. Some hold conflicting values. Some break society’s laws and norms and push us to emotional and mental turmoil. But although it might be impossible to be best buddies with everyone we meet, it is possible to cultivate an attitude where we understand and accept others for the people they are. Besides deeper social relationships, this attitude can bring with it a deep-rooted peace and clarity.
Mindfulness can be an effective technique for cultivating this attitude. What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is an attitude and way of being: To be mindful, we embrace the present moment and view things in a nonjudgmental manner. We ground ourselves to the here-and-now, aware of life around us, and accept and embrace all things as they are. If you have never practiced meditation, this might be difficult to understand. Nevertheless, if we begin to cultivate this skill that is mindfulness, it can transform our relationships. Here’s how.
- Recognizing experience and life without judgement
When we are mindful, we are grounded in the present and aware of the internal and external. Through this, in our interactions with others, we remain mindful of bodily sensation, feelings, thoughts, action tendencies and tension within the body. We remain aware of the other person, their verbal and nonverbals, their behaviors and the cascading responses within us. Staying mindful might also mean becoming aware of lingering emotions, thoughts, and behaviors after a conflict.
For example, we might recognize anger and aggressive impulses within ourselves as someone challenges our values. And as we stay mindful – as we stay in the here-and-now and nonjudgmental – we accept things as they are. Resistance is minimized. We do not try to force change. As we embrace this paradoxical outlook, change occurs. We identify what triggers us and why. We begin to recognize our own conditioned responses and reactions.
- Mindfulness helps us to break the destructive cycle of rumination
As we stay mindful and aware of the internal and external, we recognize the impermanence in all things. For example, a frustrated person might remind himself that his frustration is temporary. In this mindful state, destructive cycles can be interrupted more easily. We can feel restlessness, frustration or unease, observe it, and know that it will pass. Through this, we remind ourselves that although someone is making us feel some type of way, the emotion will pass. Recognizing this, there is liberation.
- Acting “mindlessly,” we respond conditionally: We react and act impulsively
A friend of mine, call him Blaze, recently complained that his co-worker, Jorge, was “rude” because he constantly bypassed his personal space. Eventually, this resulted in Blaze getting so distressed that he yelled out at Jorge, causing tension and problems within the workplace.
Throughout our days, life gives us many chances to cultivate and display patience, compassion, and understanding. In a mindless state, however, we are reactionary creatures. On the other hand, when we are mindful, we are aware of our responses and reactions. Through mindfulness, we create the space needed to activate our prefrontal cortex: The part that can allow us to act in a way that isn’t reactive, but in a way that is compatible with our long-term goals and values.
How different could things have turned out for Blaze and Jorge had they been mindful?
- Mindfulness and outlook
In mindfulness, there is an emphasis on radical acceptance. Through the lens of acceptance, we allow things and people to be as they are, without judgement. Through the lens of acceptance, we view life and everything within it with curiosity.
An interesting analogy demonstrates this concept. Imagine walking into a forest filled with trees and shrubs: There are magnificent Redwoods that tower above the clouds and small trees covered with moss and shrubs; There are trees that have grown sideways, and trees that have grown diagonally; There are trees with colorful leaves, and trees without many leaves. As you stand in the forest, you don’t think “This tree is ugly AF, while this one is amazing and so much better.” Instead, you stand there and appreciate everything as it is. Even the tree that is on the ground and rotting is brimming with wildlife and other vegetation. You cherish its uniqueness.
Through the mindful lens, we view people as we view the trees. Some people are loud and stand too close to you – others don’t even make an effort to talk to you. Some people are grumpy in the mornings, and some people fall asleep way too early. Some people show you love through distance and sarcasm, while others test your boundaries. Of course, in our interactions, we must express our needs and mark our boundaries. But as we do this, we can act mindfully, recognizing the infinite complexity and uniqueness of all.
Author: Manuel teaches the Mindfulness class at Innergy Meditation – Sundays at 7:00 PM. SIGN UP HERE
Photo credits: Phil Coffman – https://unsplash.com/@philcoffman