I want you to try something with your next conversation: count your breaths while you listen to the other person. Just breathing and their words. Something interesting will happen, which I will get to towards the end of the article so you have to read all of this.
If you have ever tried to buld a meditation habit, and failed (like I have half a dozen times in the last 3 years), you understand that focusing on your breathing hardly squeezes out the rest of the world at first. Rather, when trying to focus, it feels like every little thing around or inside of your head gets magnified. Your monkey mind suddenly has the strength of, like, 17 monkies. And they have bananas and no compunction about ruining your clothes.
What's interesting about that effect that no one thinks about is that you can use it to your advantage. In the 90s when I was little, my mother used to take me to qigong meditation sessions once a week. Qigong is interesting in that the various styles almost always include some additional element beyond breath control. Some use deliberate movement, some use yoga-like stances, others use heavy visualization to guide the practice. She took me to the latter which included about 2 hours-long visual descriptions of how the Qi energy flowed through our bodies.
The additional piece - the movement, the stances, the imagery - all served one specific purpose - to engage our monkey mind. Your mpnkey mond would otherwise spin off into lord know what banana fights and pull your breathing along with it.
A Silent Monkey Mind is a Monkey Getting Into Trouble
Now, consider this for those of us who practice the virtue of Silence. The goal of Silence is usually to be more engaged and aware in conversations. Too often we listen to respond to persona before we actually try to hear and understand what they're saying. Ben Franklin's particular flavor of Silence was that plus him attempting to prevent himself from mansplaining to everyone he spoke to.
So what if we were to take that breathing focus and deliberate "distraction" and apply it to conversations? By turning any conversation into a minfullness breathing exercise where we use breath focus supplemented with intense focus on the words others are speaking to us, we build Silence into a ay to day habit. Evety conversation bercomes and mindfull moment with which we can engage.
When I tried it over the last three years of my Virtue Project, it had two effects.
- We calm the hell down more often. Humans talk a lot. If every conversation becomes a meditative moment, we can gain all the benefits of regular meditation without necessarily carving out time to do. Consistency has always been my problem when trying to dedicate time each day to meditation. Doing it this way, I can generally garauntee that I'll get a few moments calm each day.
- You will hear the words the person is speaking. So many of our conversations become about preparing to respond. We listen to poke holes in arguments, defend ourselves, or tell people to duck once the bananas start to drop. But here, taking a moment to pull our minds away from that habit to listen as a meditative aid allows us to hear first and then respond.
Plus a calmer engagement in any conversation will make that conversation better for all invovled.
So. The next time you're talking to someone, pull back and focus on your breath and their words. We'll keep our monkey minds in check and maybe get to eat that banana instead?