Thursday, September 18, 2014

Communicating Without Judgement

About a year ago when I began to simplify my life I also started trying to learn how to meditate. Meditation was not something I’d done before, but increasingly as I read about people I admire they said how daily meditation was key to improving their lifestyle and to achieving what they did. Like this guy...

As we do, I googled it looking for mp3s of guided meditations that I could play to help me out. And I found one in particular that I liked -- a 20 minute meditation called Breath Meditation. It taught me to focus on my breathing and nothing else. Seems easy, but it’s incredibly hard because our mind is constantly racing. I was lucky to get in a breath or two before I got distracted.

Just recently I started using an app called Headspace that has nice guided meditations that are set up for beginners to grow with. The Headspace app works better for me because it is thoughtfully set up as a learning experience and not just a bunch of random meditations. I’m seeing progress.

But it wasn’t until I started using that app and was asked by it to clarify why I’m actually meditating that I really thought about why I’m doing it. To better live in the moment? To free my mind of clutter? To achieve some sort of inner peace or mindfulness?

Why I Meditate
Books like Mindfulness in Plain English and Non-Violent Communication (horrible name, I know) helped me realize that the reason I meditate is because I want to listen and communicate without judgement. Because if I ever want to be in a kickass relationship there's got to be good communication, right?

I’ve learned that I often carry too much personal baggage into a conversation and, as a result, don’t fully hear what the other person is saying. I have my own filters that block my brain that make it difficult to empathize. Much of that is because there’s always chatter from predispositions and stereotypes and worries and whatever that clog my mind. 


We all do it. We see someone and instantly form an opinion on them based on virtually no information. We all have strings of thoughts going through our heads all the time -- some of it is beneficial and some is not (that’s why we don’t speak everything that comes into our brains). But even when not spoken it’s still there clouding our empathy.

Something I learned while spending 6 weeks backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail earlier this year was that almost always the stuff going through my head is completely worthless. With that much solitude all I had was my own mind to keep me company, and my mind wasn’t as cordial and riveting a dinner guest as I had hoped. Over and over and over the same crap kept popping up, like...
    • how I might describe this particular place to others in the future when I recap my hike to them
    • what I want my future life to look like
    • women I’d been on a date or two with
    • women I’d never been on a date with but wanted to go on a date with (what can I say... I’m a guy)
    • how much longer until I’d take a break
    • etc.
And the most maddening thing of all was that the same ones would keep coming back and coming back. Ten minutes after I’d had a little two-sided mental discussion about something, it would come back again, demanding more attention. And I’d just repeat the same two-sided discussion in my head from ten minutes prior. Again and again.

I started saying to myself: “Stop thinking about that! It’s worthless and you already addressed it ten minutes ago and now you’re just repeating yourself. Just stop.”

Eventually this inner dialogue evolved to: “It’s interesting how these identical pointless thoughts keep popping up. I’m going to ignore you and simply use this experience to add to my understanding that this is how my brain wants to work.”

Upon further reading on mindfulness I learned that virtually everyone’s brain has been programmed to act like this. It’s only after we learn to calm the mind that we can truly be present and communicate without judgement.

So that’s why I’m learning to meditate -- because I want to quiet my mind's filters and communicate with more empathy.

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