It is not the difficulties that arise in life that unbalance us; it is our emotional responses to those difficulties
When our internal experience keeps us from connecting with ourselves in a calm and peaceful way we might react in one of three ways. We can respond: wanting to hold on, wanting to push away, or spacing out. Sometimes our emotional response is strong. When others experience us having intense emotions it can trigger the arousal of a defensive emotional (fight, flight or freeze) state in them.
When this takes place, we are no longer feeling connected to each other, no longer in a collaborative relationship. Each person has separated into his or her own internal world of stories, fears and judgments and feels alone, disconnected and isolated. When we feel this sense of aloneness, and disconnection, others may express their fear, anger or discomfort at this disconnection either by speaking harshly, behaving badly or with desperation, or by withdrawing.
At this time, the behaviour may become the focus of our attention, rather than our own internal emotional states. We may then judge them, label them as challenging, demanding, controlling, confrontational, hostile, moody, reclusive or shy etc. Of course these are the stories in our minds, and we are centre stage as the stories are embellished, repeated, rehearsed justified. This tends to distance us further from connecting meaningfully with others and impairs our ability to emotionally understand them and ourselves.
Without emotional understanding it is difficult to feel connected. Emotional relating opens the door for collaborative, integrative, communication in which conversation can allows us to connect to each other. All relationships, especially intimate and parent-child relationships, are built on attuned, collaborative, communication that honours the richness and complexity of each individual.
When we are aware of our own internal emotional states, and feel accepting of them, we can stay connected to ourselves –even when things are unpleasant – we communicate what is happening, and maintain connection with others. If we are not aware of our own internal emotional states, or if we are not accepting of, fearful, ashamed of, or unaccustomed to, showing vulnerability to others, then we start reacting in habituated ways.
We can notice this disconnection and reaction to disconnection happening during conversations between people who do care about each other, when the tone of the voice, facial expression and posture of the body goes from soft, open and receptive, to harsh, unreceptive, or just plain tense.
When we can stay attuned to our own internal emotional states, and stay present with others. And when we can be attuned to others internal emotional states and stay present with them we feel a sense of resonance, of meeting, being felt by each other, knowing and being known. This enables us to feel good about ourselves, respected and safe, enriching each persons capacity for self understanding and compassion.
Mindful listening involves each person being as present as they can, each allowing the other to have their emotional experience without reacting strongly to it. We respond enthusiastically and with affirmation in response to positive joyful experiences, and we respond with empathy offering a soothing presence in response to negative emotions such as moments of disappointment or hurt.
When one person is disconnected from the present, perhaps lost in stories and emotions, if the other person can stay present, be with in kindness and patience, they can show the first person the way out of the mud and back to the present. But, if one person is lost and the other becomes lost in reaction, it is as if there are no grown ups in the room, and two people are going down the gurgler.
Mess in relationships only happens when both people are getting lost in stories and emotions and reactivity. As long as one person is present, kindness, care and clarity is possible.
The greatest gift we can give others and ourselves – is the gift of being present. Being present requires a capacity to deal with difficult emotions because it is not the difficulties that arise in life that unbalance us; it is our emotional responses to those difficulties.
Our degree of our capacity to be present with others, mindfully listening to them, is therefore completely dependent on our capacity to ‘be with’ our emotions and their emotions. All forms of meditation assist us in managing our emotions.
Notice the contexts are you able to be present and listen mindfully when others are getting lost in stories and emotions?
Which contexts do you stop being present and able to listen to someone else?
What impact does non-presence have on you, and them, and your relationship?
Liana Taylor ©