In the lead-up to Valentine’s Day I have been thinking a lot about relationships. Not about the chocolates and greetings cards mushy stuff that often gets attention on Valentine’s – but proper real relationships. So I wanted to take an opportunity to celebrate relationships in all their forms – whether we are single or not! You might wonder what this has to do with mindfulness – it has everything to do with mindfulness! We don’t live in a vacuum. Mindfulness isn’t just navel-gazing. It is also about how we see and relate to others:
Whatever our relationship situation, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the people that we have in our lives. They may be friends, they may be family, they may be lovers, they may be friendly acquaintances. And appreciate what these people mean to us. In the last few years I have tried to make a practice of paying people compliments – genuine compliments – or thanking people when they have done something for me. I admit it felt a little awkward at first – our natural default is often to notice the negative. It can be so easy to take people for granted. However, with practice I started to notice the positive in others more and really value the abundance of relationships that I have.
This year as a new year’s resolution I got an empty jar and some pieces of card. Once a week (or more if we feel like it) we write down something that we appreciate about each other and place it in the jar. It is lovely watching the jar grow more full and remembering all of the things that I love about my husband.
At Mindful Therapies we practice gratitude and appreciation at the end of each working day, sharing five things we are grateful for with our colleagues. This may be simply making a cup of tea through to collaborating on a funding bid. By doing this we not only show our appreciation for our colleagues but also return home to our loved ones in a more positive frame of mind.
Learn to Really See One Another
Mindfulness is about taking an interest, being curious. Yet we are often so distracted when we talk to one another. How often do we truly give somebody our undivided attention? We can learn to practice active listening with a friend, colleague or partner. This means taking the time, putting aside the TV or phone and just being with another person.
Often when we talk to people we aren’t really focused on them; we are simply waiting for our turn to speak. The old adage of ‘being born with two ears and one mouth, use them in proportion’ should be a constant reminder to us all.
In any interaction we do may not always remember everything that was said or done but we generally remember how it made us feel. When we are truly present for another person they feel appreciated, valued and cared for. When we meditate we practice being in the moment with curiosity and non-judgement, this is often a solitary exercise in which our focus is awareness of our feelings and thoughts. However, it is called practice for a reason, it is practice for living our lives more mindfully, at that includes being present, with curiosity and non-judgement for others too. The next time you see a friend, colleague or loved one, try being fully present for them, using their words as the anchor when you notice you have become distracted.
Practice Forgiveness – but Know What to Accept
Unpleasant experiences tend to have a bigger impact on the brain than pleasant ones. This means that we are more likely to notice the times when people let us down rather than when they don’t. We remember the times when our friends turn up late or when our housemates leave their washing up in the sink and forget all the times when they are punctual and tidy. This is negativity bias and means that for us to have a sense of balance in a relationship, we need to have five positive experiences to balance one negative. So next time somebody lets us down, before we condemn them completely, can we think of five positive things that we appreciate about them – so that we can see their misdemenour with more balance?
Can we use our imagination to develop compassion for our loved ones when they have irritated us? Sometimes when I am irritated with a friend I find it helpful to remember how similar we are – all the qualities and experiences we share as human beings – and see my friend as a flawed human being just like me!
Forgiveness doesn’t mean accepting situations in which we are being abused or taken advantage of. When we practice compassion we also need to be compassionate towards ourselves and this often means having boundaries. ‘Forgiveness doesn’t excuse their behaviour. Forgiveness prevents their behaviour from destroying your heart.’ (unknown)
So this Valentines Day, let’s take some time to appreciate all the relationships that we have, warts and all, and nurture them with mindfulness and compassion.