Listening mindfully is a key skill to build the strong bonds of love.
I’m just finishing up making beef Bourguignon for Christmas Eve dinner. One of the many heartfelt things we do to show our friends and families how much they mean to us. In our family, every two years we congregate from far and wide to celebrate together. We look forward to it for months. We plan and prep for these two weeks for two months. This year is interesting as the first wave of children return from school and we see how they are growing into adults. There are different ideas, diets, friends, beliefs, and values to share and watch evolve.
Connect with Intention
Families getting together is lovely and it can also be very hard for people. You want to connect meaningfully with the people that matter to you. As much as you love your family, as an introvert all the additional conversations can be exhausting. Beyond that there can be unrealistic expectations about how people are going to behave, the emotional expectations of happy events, seeing your contribution appreciated, and being seen and heard for who you are.
Enjoying this special time together and thriving as a family takes a special kind of work. There’s room for a new kind of emotional growth and creating strong bonds. Winter solstice and the winter celebrations are all about the light. I’d like to bring some of the light inside and try to shine the way for myself and my family. Fortunately, the mindful toolkit contains help – listening mindfully.
Every conversation over the holidays is an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Our usual habit during a conversation is to think about what we’re going to say next, or to interrupt, or to let our mind wander. See if, even for 2 minutes, you can fully dedicate your attention to the person speaking. If it’s hard to pay attention, just notice the colour of the person’s eyes. It helps them feel listened to and accepted. As Simone Weil writes, “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
As you listen, lead with your heart. Be aware of how you’re standing and what your arms are doing. Notice if you are crossing your arms and legs a lot. People open up more to people who tilt their head as they listen and make eye contact. Try to concentrate on who you’re talking to and not to look around the room. I have a very bad habit of looking away when I’m thinking about the conversation. That’s my clue that I’m doing more processing than listening. Listening mindfully helps me remember to be fully present to the other person.
Start with yourself
Dan Siegel has a wonderful technique of letting go of emotions called ‘name and tame’. When the difficult feelings start to arise, stop for a moment and identify the emotion. If it’s anger, notice if your face is getting warm, if you’re throat is tightening, or if you feel restless. Then repeat to yourself “this is anger, this is anger, this is anger.” If you feel hurt about something and notice the signs in your body, say “this is hurt, this is hurt, this is hurt”. I’ve found that difficult emotions pass through faster when I can name them. I didn’t truly understand what “let it go” meant until I started doing this practice. Before then my letting go looked more like suppressing.
Be gentle with where people are
Every media we consume — movies, television, radio, blogs, emails —everything is telling us to consume and be happy. Within the cultural pressure each person has their own wishes and wants from the holidays. One may look forward to the no-limits tone of the holidays. Another may be looking for a big haul of presents. They may want to catch up with friends they don’t get to see often. If you’ve been enjoying the simplicity and calm of mindfulness it’s harder to understand the appeal of the flash. Remind yourself to be gentle and patient with yourself and others and try to see the world through their eyes.
Tread softly with the sore spots
As we all know only too well, the sore spots within our families do not go away. They can soften over time as people grow but they don’t ever really disappear. The stress of the holiday season can flow down and provoke individual stress behaviour in a heartbeat. When you see this happening, breathe deeply, and resist the temptation to jump into the fray. If you feel like rehashing old hurts or notice that you’re expecting more love and approval than they can muster, promise yourself a few moments to quietly breathe and release the feelings. Use the same intentional presence during the tender moments, too.
Wishing you a lovely, peaceful holiday.