A purposeful attention, awareness and acceptance of the present
Recently I started reading about mindfulness and trying to practice it consciously. As I focus on breathing (when I could remember) and concentrate on my thoughts and feelings, I find this a little easier to do when I am at home alone. Even with the knowledge of some techniques, practicing it has been a challenge. It isn’t something I notice I am forgetting to do because of the very nature of forgetting about it. 😉
This challenge becomes more difficult when interacting with someone else. In a conversation both participants have to be mindful enough to listen and not let their own views, judgements, fears, etc. get in the way. I struggle with this immensely. Yet, it was my one goal this past visit – (see post: Packing Light).
It may seem futile to even venture into an evening with a person who is narcissistic to think, “hey, let’s be mindful for the next four hours”. However futile or naive this seems, part of re-wiring how I respond in any difficult situation (verbal attacks to subtle put-downs to manipulation) is to understand what is happening at that moment before I decide to chalk it up to another ‘N’ thing or delay my thoughts and feelings.
“Do me a favor. Do yourselves a favor. Stop talking, and look (at the painting). You’re not required to write a paper. You’re not even required to like it. You are required to consider it.” – Katherine Watson (from the movie Mona Lisa Smile)
Part of mindful communication was to listen and consider what the other person said without clouding it with my judgements and feelings – to really hear them. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, especially with FOO issues. We also included sharing only our present in this definition (recent past and known future).
It isn’t that talking about the past or future is not essential. There are genuinely circumstances when the past and the future play an important part in authentic conversations. Because mindfulness is not an isolated concept. The past and future intersect. It is that unhealthy overlap in which we have to intentionally and uncomfortably fight – daily – to help us be mindful.
As I opened up my ears to people who have hurt me, frequently and consistently hurt me and probably will do so in the future, I began to hear the stickiness I had never heard. It is a stickiness I am very familiar with, it is the kind of stickiness I’ve been getting unstuck from – the pain of my past and the anxiety of my future – my old patterns. Being caught in either never really allows me to be mindful.
And as I tried so hard to hear my mother and DH’s FOO/friends, their stickiness and my own was hard to bear. Because it wasn’t only that they were stuck, it was that they were trying to keep us stuck in the old way that “connected” us. Dragging us back. Every attempt in the conversation was to directly revisit the pain of the past or to cure the anxiety of the future.
The Pain of the Past with Anxiety of the Future
As much as DH and I purposefully focused our present, our FOOs managed to time travel – some 20 years ago, 12 years ago, 6 years ago, a year ago.
Bringing up our past decisions, choices and behaviors were relevant to them, they felt the pain of the past today. That pain, I am no stranger to. Our progress at getting unstuck from our own pain were met with countermoves, subtle insults and emotional blackmail – beckoning us to ‘change back’.
When we successfully managed to keep the present on track and deflect attempts to ‘change back’, they went further back into the past only to jump full speed ahead into the future:
Lou: When do you think you will come back to the US?
DH: I don’t know.
Lou: Do you think they’ll keep you in Europe?
DH: I have no idea.
Lou: Is Asia a possibility?
DH: It could be.
Anxiety about the future is nastier the more uncertain it is, especially when someone else is controlling it. Anxiety grabbed me by surprise. Usually my FiL joins us when visiting with his friends. Here is what happened:
FiL: You guys go on ahead.
Me: You are welcome to join us, it is no problem.
FiL: You guys go and visit and I’ll stay here.
Me: Are you sure? It is no problem for you to join.
I disrespected his boundaries narcissistically. I sat in shame for a while on that one. And when DH pointed it out, I realized what happened. I hoped that FiL would join, not because I wanted the pleasure of his company, but because I sought relief to deal with Lou. Having another person, using another person, would help alleviate the stress of dealing with them – the stress of changing.
When It All Intersects
Pain and anxiety were actually two sides of the same coin – preventing my change. My pain justifying my behaviors and my anxiety unsuccessfully alleviating me from future pain – continuing a vicious cycle.
As I think on this past year, I began to realize how difficult it is to be mindful when talking with someone else. How emotions, near or far, past or future, unfelt or felt can come into play in basic conversation. How in the smallest of sentences, words, emotions go unresolved.
“The past and the future only exist in our mind. You can only ever experience what is happening in the present.” – tweeted by Everyday Mindfulness (@mindfuleveryday; 14 February 2014)
I began to realize how the past and the future played huge roles in my relationships today, sometimes, the only role. There was no room for the present. Our present was just as non-existent as our relationship.
Further reading on Mindfulness
The Mindfulness Project: Six Ways to Make Your Day More Mindful
Everyday Mindfulness: Mindful Communication
Everyday Mindfulness: Modern Focus (lack thereof)
For Star Wars fans from Mindful.org: Luke, I’m Your Dad