Keep Calm and Carry On.
Often, that is easier said than done.
Today's high-tech world allows us to communicate instantly - and that can work against us. Sometimes we react before we think things through. Tempers flare. Situations escalate. The evidence is all around us.
Here's the trouble with anger and fear: they hijack the brain and put our bodies into fight-or-flight mode. Inflammatory thoughts and emotions trigger more of the same unless we interrupt them. When we hand over the reins to our fear center (the amygdala) the wiser parts of our brains (like the pre-frontal cortex) get overruled.
We can't always prevent stress and conflict, but we can learn strategies to respond mindfully when they occur. Here are four simple practices that can help us make peace with ourselves and others.
- Breathe mindfully — Breathing deeply and mindfully stimulates neural pathways that shift the our brains and bodies out of stress mode (also called the fight-or-flight or sympathetic response) and into relaxation mode (also called the rest-and-digest or parasympthetic response). Just this one habit — pausing to breathe — can provide the space for more intentional communications.
Instruct yourself: Place your attention on your breath and notice how you experience it as it travels all the way in and all the way out. Allow your body to soften and your breath to deepen with each inhalation, if you wish.
- Cultivate compassion — Consciously shift to a compassionate stance. Acknowledge that all conflict stems from unmet needs. Although you may not yet understand the conflict, you can accept that the conflict exists, and you can become curious about what it might reveal about you and all who are involved. Notice whether or not you are willing to extend goodwill towards yourself and others. Whether or not you are willing, let your experience be what it is. As you are able, nurture your commitment to the well-being of all concerned.
Ask yourself: What is the highest good for everyone concerned?
- Observe your thoughts, emotions, and sensations — When you imagine your experience as separate from your Self, you cultivate an attitude of non-judgement and letting go. As you observe what you are experiencing, without attachment to it being "truth", you can become curious and see things with fresh eyes ("beginner's mind"). You may notice connections between different parts of your experience. "When I have that thought, I have this sensation, and then that emotion". Cultivating this curiosity allows you to wonder about what is beneath these thoughts. What stories or assumptions support your thoughts? What values are important to you?
Ask yourself: What is my experience revealing about me?
- Listen deeply — As you listen deeply to your own experience, allow yourself to be curious about the experience of the others with whom you are engaged. Ask open-ended questions. Notice how you experience the response. Cultivate patience. Breathe deeply if you experience difficult reactions and continue listening. Listen for the values and needs being expressed in the responses. Seek to understand before you make yourself understood.
Ask yourself: How can I honor the needs and values of the person who is speaking?
Mindfulness allows us to calm ourselves and deepen our understanding of ourselves and others. While these practices are simple, they are not always easy, especially in the midst of strong emotions. Nonetheless, they are a powerful way to begin any attempts at peacemaking - and don't we all want more peace in our lives?
What about you? Have you used mindfulness to create more peace in your life? Please share your experiences in the comments below!
For more about specific conflict resolution techniques, I encourage you to explore the work of Marshall Rosenberg. You can read more about him in my blog- Four Steps to More Compassionate Communication. If you'd like to learn more about my workshops on "The Art of Powerful Listening" please contact me!