Carman was looking forward to seeing her high-school friend Bridget after many years. After re-connecting by e-mail, they finally met at a small cafe for lunch. But the excitement soon wore off when Bridget started talking. She showed little interest in Carman and dominated the conversation with a long, angry story about her failed marriage. “I lost my appetite for the food and left the restaurant feeling like I’d been poisoned”, Carman told me later. Exploring her feelings further, she realized that underneath her disappointment she felt sad, frustrated and hurt. The friend she knew from the past didn’t show up and in her place was an angry stranger.
Practicing Mindful Communication is a life-long path. There’s no such thing as a meaningless conversation. But what do we do when our buttons are being pushed? When the communication door slams shut and our friend shows no interest in listening, what do we do on the other side of that door? One suggestion is not to do anything. ” When the light turns red, stop” is a reminder not to push ahead when communication breaks down. Instead, practicing mindfulness enables us to rest in the present moment with an open mind and heart, simply feeling the sadness of the barrier.
This kind of sadness is like a stream in early winter. You can see the water flowing underneath a crust of ice. Bridget’s anger was sadness frozen in aggressive storylines. Carman’s disappointment was a flowing sadness that kept her open as long as she didn’t get hooked by those stories. To do this, Carman had to let go of her expectation that lunch with her friend would be a two-way conversation.
We practice mindful communication in short moments like these when we’re in-between the flow and the freeze. Success doesn’t mean Carman would suddenly have the power to open up a two-way conversation. But success in this case means that she could feel the flow of her disappointment and her own sadness without freezing into a reactive story. This enabled Carman to stay open for a little while longer to Bridget’s pain. At the same time, she recognized how toxic Bridget’s storylines were. Seeing this clearly, she refrained from supporting them.
When the barrier is up, there isn’t much we can do. But staying open to the wisdom of our open mind and tender heart can make that ‘not-doing’ a transformative kind of silence, an invitation to re-connect with the flow of communication that is always there beneath the ice.