A practical example of mindfulness being integrated into daily life is “listening.” Most of us do not need to be persuaded of the importance and challenge of effective communication and the central role that listening plays. So, too, we know only too well the frustration and anger that can arise in the midst of conversations, be they in person, over the phone, or via email and text.
The basic mindfulness practice, known as “focused attention” can be helpful for paying better attention. Through focusing attention on an object, such as the breath, and when the mind wanders, directing attention back to the object, you become more adept at noticing mind wandering, and as a result, better able to maintain attention. This skill, developed and refined through daily practice, translates well into real-world exchanges with other people. Moreover, because you are more likely to catch your mind as it begins to wander, you not only are able to stay on track better, but you are less likely to ride the roller coaster of emotion frequently caused by unnecessary mind wandering into past and future. In this way, mindfulness practice can be helpful for being a more attentive listener.
Mindful listening involves noticing the thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that arise in the midst of conversation. Whether we are aware of it or not, our interior experience often influences our decision making and conduct. We feel agitated and so we do something to feel less agitated. For example, we are interrupted and so we talk louder. Or we think we know where the person is going — or don’t like where the person is going — and so we interrupt. But talking louder or interrupting tends not to be the most effective response. It’s just the one that is triggered most immediately as a way to quell the agitation we are feeling, be it frustration, anger, restlessness, or even boredom.
Attorney Paul Singerman offers a helpful instruction to guide mindful listening. It’s one that can both deepen your mindfulness practice and listening skills. The instruction is to go a whole day without interrupting anyone. While you likely will find it to be extremely challenging to implement, it is the very moments of challenge that matter most. For when you catch yourself about to interrupt, the opportunity presents itself to turn attention inward and, rather than react, observe the changing landscape of thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. This can feel uncomfortable, but if you are able to rest your attention on these interior experiences (and steady yourself with the breath), you may begin to find nuggets of insight and develop a greater resilience to maintain your attentiveness and engagement. Importantly, Singerman cautions not to “white knuckle” it, meaning that the instruction is not to clench teeth and fight the urge to interrupt until you detect an opening to jump in. Rather, it is an open invitation to practice patience, to step outside the fray of battling egos, to gather more data, and, perhaps at a time when it is needed more than ever, to demonstrate a show of respect for another human being.1
1 This blog was taken from: Rogers, Scott. “What exactly is mindful listening”. The Florida Bar. January 1, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2Fdivcom%2Fjn%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2F8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829%2Fa12eda25d9c08963852581fe004ff49b