communication

Four spiritual love languages

Ai-generated images of the Buddha and a nun, in a colorful style that looks like a painting.

Yesterday on Mastodon, which is the only social media site I use at the moment besides the private online community space I host for Wildmind’s sponsors, someone shared a link to a “love languages” quiz.

I’d heard of this concept of love languages before. The blurb on the official website, based on the best-selling book by Dr. Gary Chapman, says,

The premise of The 5 Love Languages® book is quite simple: different people with different personalities give and receive love in different ways. By learning to recognize these preferences in yourself and in your loved ones, you can learn to identify the root of your conflicts, connect more profoundly, and truly begin to grow closer.

The basic idea is that we don’t all have the same ways of expressing love to each other, and therefore we don’t always recognize when someone is showing us love, or understand how to let them feel loved. And that fits with my experience.

For example, if my partner’s way of showing me love is giving small gifts, but I don’t value material possessions and in fact see them as annoying clutter, I might not feel that she intends to show love when she gives me some tchotchke or other. There’s a mismatch in how we interpret the action of giving.

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Conversely, if my partner wants me to show affection with touch, but I’m not a particularly physical person, then she may not feel that she’s being shown love when I give her praise, even though I might consider that to be a clear expression of my love for her. If I offer help, but the other person interprets this as their competence being called into question, then again there’s a mismatch. It is indeed very much as if we were speaking different languages.

I took the quiz, and was told at the end that there were five love languages:

  • Quality Time™
  • Words of Affirmation™
  • Physical Touch™
  • Acts of Service™
  • Receiving Gifts™

I learned that my preferred “languages” were the first three in the list.

(And yes, the quiz included those oddly obsessive trademark signs, although hopefully we’re allowed to talk about things like “quality time” without getting sued.)

When I reflected on my own experience of being in loving relation to others, it seemed to me that the most profound expressions of love were not included in the five languages offered above. So I thought I’d say a few words about other love languages.

My intention isn’t at all to criticize Chapman’s work, but to offer a wider and deeper perspective on communicating love, for those who might find it helpful.

1. Looking With Love

Looking with love and being looked at with love are profound forms of communication. As Jan Chozen Bays wrote in her wonderful book, “How to Train a Wild Elephant,” in a chapter called Loving Eyes: “We know how to use loving eyes when we are falling in love, when we see a new baby or a cute animal. Why do we not use loving eyes more often?”

Not only do we know how to look with loving eyes, but we know what it’s like to be looked at lovingly. It’s one of the most important communications that goes on in loving relationships, whether between partners, or parents and children, or friends.

Looking with loving eyes has become an important part of the way I practice and teach lovingkindness practice. But it’s something we can do anytime.

Although looking with love plays an important part in showing love, it doesn’t fit into the five-fold schema of the love languages. However, it seems to me to be a love language in its own right. And it’s another place where mismatches in communication styles can take place. Some people are more sensitive to loving looks than others. Some people express love through their eyes more than others.

2. Giving Honesty and Showing Vulnerability

Like everyone, I have bad habits. I get irritable at times, for example. When I’ve behaved badly like that I try to apologize as quickly as possible — often within moments. I usually try to explain what was going on in my being as the irritability arose — “I was stressed and tired, I misinterpreted what you said, old conditioning from childhood traumas was triggered,” and so on. I often say she doesn’t deserve to be treated badly. I do these things as an expression of love.

And she is very good herself at doing the same time, letting me know what led to her acting in unhelpful ways. She too does this as an expression of love.

This, to me, is one of the most profound displays of love we can offer. Giving honesty and showing vulnerability involves a great deal of trust. It too is a kind of love language — Look, I love you enough that I will take this risk!  — yet it doesn’t seem to fit at all in the five love languages schema.

There can be mismatches in language. Some people don’t like apologizing, because they think it makes them look weak, and they’ll see another person’s apologies as a sign of submission. Some people can’t receive expressions of vulnerability because their first instinct is to try to “fix” things by making suggestions, rather than listening empathetically.

3. Showing Patience and Forgiveness

The expressions of love that I most appreciate from my partner are when she is patient with me and when she forgives me. When she does those things I really know I’m loved.

When we accept each other as imperfect, and forgive each others’ missteps, we give each other permission to be ourselves, which is an enormous gift. We see ourselves and each other as works-in-progress, which liberates us both from being afraid we’ll never change and from having to pretend we’re perfect. And we also know that the other person is working on their stuff, which offers immense reassurance.

Patience and forgiveness are also languages through which we show love.

There could be mismatches here, too. One person might show patience and forgiveness as an act of love, while the other person takes it as a sign of having got away with something; they aren’t able to reciprocate with the humility and gratefulness that should accompany being offered forgiveness and so can’t benefit from it. Some people even see conflict as a sign of love, and think that patience is equivalent to not caring — If they really loved me they’d be angry. Some people fear being forgiving because they think it will encourage bad behavior, and so they resort to punishing, resentful behaviors, never letting the other person forget that they’ve transgressed.

4. Sharing the Path

The most powerful way I know for us to connect lovingly with each other is for us to talk about our lives and our relationships as a spiritual practice. This means sharing what we understand love to be, sharing the mistakes we’ve made and what we’ve learned, what our hopes and fears are, and in every way letting ourselves be known not just as a partner, but as a human being struggling our way through life.

It means sharing what we see our life’s purpose to be, and sharing how the relationship we have with the other person — and I’m thinking of partners here, in the main, but also some dear friendships — fits into that purpose.

This may be the deepest love language of all.

Through it, we come to see the other person in a deep way, and to see ourselves more clearly as well. We see the other person as a being who is on a spiritual journey. And we see ourselves in the same way. Sharing the path involves opening up in a deep way. It takes a lot of trust, as well as a shared commitment to growth.  Two people cannot share their paths unless they are both walking a path.

When we share in this way we become clearer about what matters most in our lives. We see ourselves in a very different way from our ordinary view of ourselves as beings who work and do chores and pay bills and relax in front of the TV in order to recuperate from all that.

Sharing the path in this way can lead to a profound sense of transcendence, where we no longer see ourselves and the other person as entirely separate, and where, even, our sense of self becomes tenuous. It is in fact a form of spiritual practice in its own right, as are the other three spiritual love languages I’ve described.

Mismatches here might arise when one person sees the point of such discussions as establishing who is “right” — who has the best philosophy, the most incisive insights, and so on. These kinds of mismatches are particularly painful, because what’s being shared and rejected is so central and important to who we are.

Four spiritual love languages

It’s possible that all this is contained in Chapman’s teaching on love languages — I haven’t read the book — but I saw not even the merest hint of it in the questions I was asked, which were all along the lines of, “It’s more meaningful for me when (a) my partner gives me a gift, or (b) my partner doesn’t check their phone when talking to me.”

It’s fine as far as it goes, but it seems to lack spiritual depth. Then again, not having read Chapman’s book, it may be I’m over-simplifying his approach.

Anyway, as someone who cares about the quality of my loving relationships, and who falteringly works at being a better friend, parent, and partner, I wanted to share a little of what I regard as important where it comes to communicating love.

These four spiritual love languages are areas where we need to learn to speak in ways that others who communicate differently can understand. And we need to learn to listen too, so that we can decipher others’ languages and realize that we are loved, and learn to respond to them, so that the other feels loved too.

Are there other things you would consider “love languages” that aren’t in Chapman’s book or in this article? Why not tell us about them in the comments below?

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Waking up together (Six benefits of spiritual community)

I want to talk about community. Community, or Sangha, plays a very important role in Buddhism. It’s regarded, along with the Buddha, who represents the goal of awakening, and the Dharma, or the teachings that lead to awakening, as being one of three objects of reverence that are collectively known as the “three jewels.” They’re called this because they’re precious. They could also be called the “three treasures,” though, which I think might be a more helpful translation. Sangha is something that is treasured.

Sangha literally means just “a bringing together.” It’s a bringing together of people around a common purpose, which we could say is spiritual development or even spiritual awakening. We come together in order to practice together, so that we may wake up together.

And here we are, having connected through Wildmind, which is a community-supported meditation initiative, or sangha-supported meditation initiative. Here we are, creating a community. So the question arises, how can this community help us to wake up, spiritually?

I’m going to describe seven ways that coming together as a community can help us wake up, but before then I want to say that sangha is not just a question of membership. It’s not that you pay your dues, or whatever, and then by some magical process we’ll experience all kinds of benefits. Sangha is something we have to do and to participate in if we want to benefit from it. We benefit by doing.

So I’d encourage you to make use of the online community that’s open to all sponsors. (If you haven’t figured out how to access that, then shoot me an email — you can do that just by replying to any of the community newsletters.)

1. Community Encourages Us When We’re Down

We all struggle sometimes. We get depressed or despondent. We doubt ourselves, don’t believe in ourselves, and lose touch with a sense of our own worth. And at those times we need others. We may have lost confidence in ourselves, but others still believe in us. And they can remind us or our own value. They can encourage us. And that word “encourage” is rather beautiful. It has “courage” embedded in it. When we lack confidence in ourselves, other people can give us courage. There’s something magical about that!

2. Community Strengthens Our Practice

I remember noticing, quite early on, that it was much easier to meditate when I was sitting with other people. Sitting on my own, 20 minutes of meditation might seem like a struggle, but sitting with others it was easy to sit for 30 minutes or more. Most people have the same experience. When we’re on our own we might feel a bit restless and shaky. Our practice doesn’t feel very strong. But when other meditators surround us, we feel rock-solid. Even with online community, where we’re not physically present with each other, just knowing that others are practicing with us can help us to commit to meditating.

3. Community Offers Us Connection

This is perhaps the most obvious benefit of community. We’re social animals, and even those of us who are introverts need a sense of being meaningfully connected to others. We have a deep-seated need to feel that we are part of something that is larger than ourselves. We have deep-seated needs to see others, and to be seen by them. We can share what’s going on with us, and we can learn what’s going on with others. These connections aren’t just of the mind, but are of the heart. We can care for others, and be cared for by them. This is a particularly meaningful — and perhaps the most meaningful — form of connection.

Sangha lets us see we’re not alone. Sometimes we struggle, and we might think that we’re inadequate — worse than others. And then we see that others have the same kinds of struggles as ourselves, and feel feel less alone, and judge ourselves less.

4. Community Challenges Us

It’s great connecting with other people, but it’s also difficult. That’s why Sartre said that “Hell is other people.” Sometimes people don’t behave well,  or they react to or point out a fault in something we’ve said, or maybe they just express something we don’t like. Recently I found it very hard to deal with the fact that another member of my Order was a climate-change skeptic. I had to deal with quite a bit of reactivity around that. But in the end that’s good. I have an opportunity to learn more about myself, and to work through and rise above my reactivity.

The question arises, “How can I relate respectfully and kindly to someone whose views I disagree with? How can I disagree in a way that doesn’t fall into belittling or name-calling?” Reactivity is a centrifugal force that pushes us apart. We see that in social networks when we block or mute people in order to keep life comfortable. Being committed to a community provides a centripetal force that counteracts this and helps us to grow through our discomfort.

5. Community Helps Us See Our Own Worth

We tend to discount our own positive qualities, but other people can be better at seeing us than we are at seeing ourselves and help to teach us our own worth. As part of my training to join the Triratna Buddhist Order I used to go on special retreats, in which we’d often participate in small discussion or study groups. At the end of the retreat the group would “rejoice in the merits” of each person in turn. Everyone in the group would talk about something they’d admired in that person. There can be a certain amount of discomfort when we’re on the receiving end of this kind of rejoicing, but it helps us to see ourselves more accurately and more positively.

On a related note, one of the things that stops people from contributing in an online community is that sense that they have nothing to offer. But it’s simply not possible for us to know what we have to offer until we offer it. At the very least, putting yourself out there when you think you have nothing to say is modeling the act of putting yourself out there. The simple act of saying something gives others permission and encouragement to come forward themselves.

6. Commmunity Inspires Us

Seeing other people act kindly, compassionately, and with wisdom challenges us in a very positive and even inspiring way. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen members of the Wildmind community (when, in a previous incarnation, it flourished on the Google Plus platform) show great kindness to each other. Often they would respond to each others’ struggles in ways that would never have occurred to me. I’ve learned a lot about kindness in this way. Seeing other people having insights is inspiring. Seeing people develop friendships is inspiring. Community enlarges our sense of what it is to be human.

Let’s come back to that question, “How can this community help us to wake up, spiritually?” In order for it to help us we have to be prepared to be a part of it. Community isn’t a given. It’s something that arises out of people reaching out to each other and making connections. We create it by being part of it. Together we forge community by innumerable acts of bravery, kindness, and communication.

Community is a treasure. It’s invaluable. In fact the Buddha said that acts of spiritual friendship were not half, but the whole of the spiritual life. Awakening isn’t possible without community. So let’s do it. Let’s make this community happen.

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Four things to remember when online discussions get heated

While Buddhism teaches that all beings have the potential for awakening, and that we should endeavor to relate with kindness and compassion to everyone, I admit that this is especially difficult for me on social media.

We live in particularly challenging times. Society is becoming more polarized and tribal, and I’m shocked to see a resurgence of racism and of desire for authoritarian rule, for example. Those things really stir me up emotionally when I see them online.

I’d like to offer just a few suggestions that I’ve found helpful when dealing with people I disagree with online. None of this is rocket science, and I’m not presenting myself as an expert. This is all work in (imperfect) progress.

1. See each online communication as an opportunity

Every interaction we have offers us an opportunity to get better at communicating, at dealing with conflict, at learning to practice empathy, and so on.

It’s best not to regard every interaction as an opportunity to show off your skills: Look how good I am in discussions. I’ve fallen into that trap before and it always backfires. It’s not about being right: it’s about learning to connect more compassionately.

2. Be mindful of your feelings

Unpleasant feelings flare up in the face of viewpoints we disagree with in the same way they did for our ancestors when they were physically attacked. We respond to insults and even disagreement as if they were threats to our very existence.

I try to notice when I feel emotionally provoked, and take a break. I step back and recognize the discomfort I’m feeling. When I step back and observe that I’m suffering, I can create a mindful pause in which I can evaluate the best way to respond.

Rarely do we have to reply right now. We can wait. The angry parts of the brain tend to respond very quickly. The wise and compassionate parts of the brain operate more slowly. Give the better angels of your nature time to get their boots on.

It may be that you decide you don’t have to respond at all. Certain people are trolls, just looking to provoke a response. Sometimes ignoring them is the best thing to do.

You don’t need to have the last word. I’ve found that it can be hard to walk away from an argument, though, even when I realize that it’s never going to go anywhere and that engaging is just going to cause more suffering. At first it’s agonizing. Sometimes it takes a couple of days for the painful feeling of not engaging to die down. But it does eventually vanish; all feelings are impermanent. I’ve always been glad in the end to have let someone else have the last word in a pointless argument.

I’m not suggesting that we “just experience our feelings” in order to avoid conflict, by the way. It’s just that there can be times we realize that a productive discussion is never going to happen.

And we shouldn’t ignore actual physical threats. Earlier today I reported both to his web host and to the FBI one person whose blog was advocating violence against political opponents. Some threats need to be taken seriously.

And I’d suggest that you always stand up for others, and not ignore racism, misogyny, or threats of violence. Bullying needs to be stood up to.

3. See the other person as a human being

I find the golden rule helpful in internet communications: This person I am talking to is a human being, just as I am. They have feelings, just as I do. This person I am arguing with is, like me, suffering.

Ask yourself as you’re responding — am I trying to convince this person or am I trying to make them hurt by showing that they are wong? Usually we can’t do both. It’s hard enough for others when we criticize what they say and do — none of us like it when that happens — but it’s even harder for them when we attack their character.

It can be tempting to insult someone in order to change their mind. But how often has being insulted online actually changed your mind? Probably not often. Insults don’t help. I try to remember that they just create further suffering. I try to notice even very subtle digs and delete them before posting. The other person probably won’t see them as subtle.

One beautiful exchange I saw on Twitter involved the comedian, Sarah Silverman. After someone responded to one of her messages with a single offensive word (with four letters, starting with c) she said that she’s read a number of his tweets and empathized with the physical pain he was experiencing. She also invited him to see what would happen if he decided to choose love. This led to a dialog in which he revealed past abuse and in which Silverman helped him to find affordable medical treatment.

One thing we can bear in mind when we’re online is the Scottish writer, the Reverend John Watson’s saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

4. See the other person as capable of change

Many times recently when I’ve seen someone being outrageously offensive online — being racist, or insulting a person’s appearance, for example — I’ve said the same thing: “You can be better than this.” I haven’t criticized them or their words. I haven’t told them how they should behave. I’ve just reminded them that they are capable of acting differently. So far I haven’t had a single angry response to that. Of course I don’t know how this line is actually received, but the fact that people who have said some pretty vicious things to others and have refused to back down in the face of criticism haven’t responded to me adversely makes me think I’ve struck a chord.

“You can be better than this” acknowledges the simple truth that many times we’re capable of acting better than we do. It recognizes that all beings have the potential for awakening. We’re all potential Buddhas, and we need to remind ourselves and each other of that fact.

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Attachment in intimate relationships

For as long as I’ve been practicing Buddhism, people have been talking about attachment in intimate relationships in a particular way; they’ve talked about the problem as being attachment to the other person.

To be sure, attachment to another person can be a source of pain. When you’re first in love with someone you may find that you make yourself miserable wanting to be with the other person. When they’re unavailable or you’re not sure they’re attracted to you, then this can be agonizing.

In an established relationship, when there’s insecurity along with your attachment you might be jealous of them spending time with others, or fearful that they don’t love you as much as you love them. Those things are painful as well.

Attachment to another person can be such that we fear them changing, because we sense that they’re turning into a different person, and that’s perceived as a threat to our relationship.

And you might just miss the other person when they’re away, although I think most couples healthily appreciate having some time apart.

Those forms of attachment to another person are talked about often, and for many years that limited the way I looked at attachment in intimate relationships. Recently, though, I’ve come to think that a far more important problem with attachment is that which we have to our own habits. Self-clinging is the principal problem we face.

For example, if you’re constantly criticizing a partner because they don’t do things the way you want them to be done, what’s really going on is that you’re attached to having certain things happen in a certain way — and you’re attached to criticism as a communication style. If that’s ongoing and outweighs the positive aspects of the relationship, then you’re going to cause suffering. So the question comes up, are you prepared to be flexible in your own habits? It’s not just a question of putting up with socks on the bedroom floor, or hairs in the shower drain, but of learning new ways of communicating about such things. Can you learn to be more playful, for example, or to use praise and affection as a way of encouraging your partner to change — or are you attached to using criticism?

Wanting to be right all the time is another form of attachment. When this happens we’re attached to a particular kind of “status” (being “the one who is right”), assuming that it’ll bring us happiness. The trouble is that if you’re attached to being right all the time, you’re going to be rigid and unempathetic, and be in an unhappy relationship. Humility and empathy are qualities that are much more likely to lead to a harmonious relationship. So can you let go of your attachment to winning arguments and being right? Can you embrace the need to admit your faults? Can you embrace vulnerability? Vulnerability is an open space in which growth can take place.

Avoiding conflict is another deadly problem in relationships that we can be attached to. We assume that if we ignore a problem it’ll go away. Well, any one particular problem might go away, but it’ll be replaced by a dozen more. Courage requires letting go of the habit of conflict-avoidance.

Grudges are another thing we can get attached to. We get attached to being the victim. This kind of attachment has been described as like grasping a red-hot coal with the intention of throwing it at the other person. Who gets hurt most in that scenario? Forgiveness is a form of letting go of this particular attachment.

These are just a few examples of how being attached to habits can cause suffering in relationships. But any relationship problem I can think of involves attachment of this nature: being attached to drama, being dishonest, ignoring your partner because you’re focused on work or recreation, letting your sexual desire (or the lack of it) conflict with your partner’s well-being—and thus the well-being of your relationship. These all involve self-clinging.

The measure of how deep our self-clinging can be is how painful and how difficult it is to become aware of, never mind change, our habits. It’s painful to admit when we’re at fault, to communicate honestly and courageously, and to forgive. We can put a lot of energy into resisting doing these things, and when we do face up to our habits we can feel raw, exposed, and humiliated.

While attachment to our partners can be a very real thing, it’s attachment to ourselves and our habits that I see as the most destructive force in intimate relationships.

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Speak truly

mighty oak treeIt’s been said that the most powerful tool for physical health is a fork (or spoon), since the choices you make with it determine the good or bad things you put into your body.

In the same way, perhaps the most powerful tool for your mental health – and certainly for the health of your relationships – is your tongue. Thousands of times each day, it (or your fingers on a keyboard: same thing) offers the good word or the bad one out into your world.

If you say what’s true for you, and say it clearly and kindly, you get one kind of results. But if you use a sharp tongue, speak falsely, exaggerate, or leave out the parts that are most important to you, you get different results: unnecessary conflicts, lost opportunities, a tightness in your chest, etc.

Of course, the most important person to speak truly to is yourself, with inner speech. Come to peace with the truth: the facts, your experiences and intentions, the goodness inside your heart, what’s led to what for better or worse.

On the other hand, if you act like something is true but deep down there’s a knowing that it’s not – like it’s OK not to go after an important dream, or that you can keep putting off dealing with a health issue such as smoking, or that everything’s fine in a cool and distant marriage – you’re living on thin ice: hard to build a good life on that foundation.

Truth is bedrock. Even if you wish the truth were different, it’s what you can count on in a world of full of selling, spin, and BS. It’s your refuge.

Speaking truly does not mean saying everything. You can cut to the chase in a conversation, not burden a child with more than he or she can understand, be civil when you’re angry, and not spill your guts in a meeting.

Nor should you confide more than is appropriate. There’s a place for privacy, for not telling A everything you know about B, for recognizing how intimately you can safely communicate in a particular situation or relationship.

Speaking truly – to yourself and to others – does mean being authentic. Is your outer expression lined up with your inner experience? Most of us have “that thing” which is hard to express. For me growing up, it was feeling inadequate. For many men, it’s feelings of fear or weakness. For many women, it’s feelings of anger or power. Could you find appropriate ways to say your whole truth, whatever it is?

Ask yourself: “What am I actually experiencing?” Relax your face completely and look at it in the mirror: What does it tell you? What does it say you really need these days?

Also ask yourself: “What’s important that’s not getting named?” This applies both to you and to others. Consider the hurt or anxiety beneath irritation, or the rights or needs that are the real stakes on the table. Is there an elephant in the room that no one is mentioning? Maybe someone has a problem with anger or with drinking too much, or is simply depressed. Maybe someone’s jumbo job – 60, 70 hours a week or more, counting commute and weekend emails – is crowding family life out to the margins.

Especially when you’re upset, watch out for distortions in the words you use. These include leaving out the context (like getting mad at a misbehaving child who’s hungry), using extreme language – words like “always” or flat statements that should be qualified – or using a tone that’s harsh or nasty. Without talking like a robot, look for ways to be more judicious, accurate, and to the point in what you say.

Last, accept the fact that no one is a perfect communicator. You’re always going to leave something out, and that’s OK. You have to give conversations room to breathe, without continually judging yourself as to whether you’re speaking truly! Communicating is repairing. As long as you come with basic sincerity and goodwill, your words will weave and mend a tapestry of truth in all your relationships.

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How being mindful can benefit relationships

wildmind meditation news

A friend has become a big believer in the power of mindfulness. Recently she said she thinks it has helped improve her marriage. I thought mindfulness was really just a new word for meditation. How can it help with relationships with other people?

While meditation can help a person develop mindfulness, the practice of being mindful is more than meditation. And some studies do suggest that mindfulness can help strengthen relationships.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is known as the “Father of Western Mindfulness” for his work with chronic pain patients at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, as well as for developing the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and being the founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness at UMass. He describes mindfulness as the ability to remain focused on the reality of the present moment and simply accepting it, without judging or evaluating it.

Mindfulness is seen as a way of life, not simply a method of how to react to different stressors. According to the center’s website, mindfulness involves purposeful action and focused attention that’s grounded in a person’s current experience and held with a sense of curiosity. While mindfulness is a core concept of Buddhism, it is something that anyone, regardless of belief system, can practice.

Being mindful prevents knee-jerk reactions toward other people that can often occur when you’re under stress. So, it seems logical that relationships can improve when one or more people adopt mindfulness techniques. And research lends support to that notion.

One study, published in Behavior Therapy in 2004, analyzed the benefits of an eight-week mindfulness training program on relatively happy couples. Compared with similar couples who hadn’t taken the training, those who did had improved levels of satisfaction, closeness, acceptance and other measures of their relationship, and they also showed higher levels of optimism, spirituality and relaxation as individuals. The results appeared to “take,” as the benefits were maintained in a three-month follow-up.

Two other studies, reported in an article in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy in 2007, also indicated that practicing mindfulness can help couples with communication and help them manage conflicts more smoothly.

To learn more about mindfulness, take a look at Ohio State University Extension’s “Mind and Body” page on the Family and Consumer Sciences LIve Smart Ohio website, livesmartohio.osu.edu. The posts, written by OSU Extension professionals, often incorporate aspects of mindfulness.

In addition, OSU Extension offers a four-week “Mindful Extension: A Guide to Practical Stress Reduction” group program. It was developed by Maryanna Klatt, an associate professor at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, who focuses her research on mindfulness and stress reduction. For details, see livesmartohio.osu.edu/mindful-extension.

Family Fundamentals is a monthly column on family issues. It is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Family Fundamentals, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1044, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Original article no longer available…

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How to use mindful communication and improve relationships

Joe Wilner, PsychCentral:

“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.” – Jim Rohn

The holiday season is often a time where we are around family members we may not see that often, or that we don’t always get along with.

The dreaded family reunion doesn’t have to be such a burden however if we have ways to communicate effectively that can help us improve relationships. …

Read the original article »

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Tandem meditation 101: how meditating with your partner builds intimacy

wildmind meditation newsJason Nik, Care2.com: As a Life Coach, I’ve had many clients in relationships that meditate, but somehow it always surprises me when they tell me they only meditate on their own. When these clients are going through relationship troubles and I suggest meditating together, they look at me as if I don’t understand the concept of meditation.

We all know that the benefits of meditation have been well-documented as decreasing anxiety and increasing happiness for an individual among other things; but some of the time we have spent meditating alone to enhance our individual lives could also be spent meditating with another to enhance our relationships.

To play on an old saying, couples who meditate together stay together.

Meditation creates an entirely new peaceful world for you and your interest to share together. Perhaps even more exciting, people who just met or recently started dating can meditate together, developing a bond that months of getting to know each other could not replicate.

In any relationship, it takes time to get close to someone. In that time, you have no idea what obstacles may rise up in the way of your relationship developing. Time is important to develop a relationship, but if you want to build a close bond early, meditation with your interest is a great way to start. Meditating with someone new in your life creates a different kind of intimacy that forges a unique bond between the two of you. It may seem strange at first to meditate with someone else. Meditation is perceived to have been built for solitude and seclusion; however, when you consider the core principles of meditation, suddenly meditating with a partner makes so much sense.

One of the core principles of meditation is the removal of distractions. Work, money, health, etc.­­ these are all distractions in our personal lives that can be stressful for us to deal with. They are also things that (with proper meditation) we can remove from our minds—this creates the stress­ free clarity that we crave. In the same way those issues can be obstacles in our personal lives, they can also be major obstacles in our relationships.

Meditating with a partner will allow you both to remove those distractions from your minds so you can take the time to focus on what is most important: each other.

Having no judgment is another core principle of meditation. People so easily make quick judgments about others. Sometimes we think good things about a person, and other times we think bad things about that person. Whatever judgments are being made, meditation is a no-judgment zone. That means when you meditate with someone you are interested in, you put yourselves on the same level. It’s very important in any relationship that you start off on the same level, or you may create an imbalance that as your relationship progresses could eventually tip over, destroying everything the two of you built together.

The most important principle of meditation is awareness. In singular meditation, awareness is when our senses become heightened in order to consciously feel everything around us and achieve a peaceful state of mind. When we meditate as an individual, our sense of touch is not explored much. When we meditate with another, touch plays a significant role in building our bond.

It always amazes me how little people touch one other in the early stages of getting acquainted. As babies, the sense of touch is the first sense we acquire. As a adults, touch still plays a large role in our lives. When two people touch each other they send emotional signals between one another. The sense of touch plays such an important role in connecting with someone, but often times people are uncomfortable touching someone new.

In general, society far prefers to communicate with words or through facial expressions rather than through touch. Even worse is society’s refusal to communicate naturally at all, with a preference of communicating through texting. Communication may be faster through texting, but it strips away our natural connection and results in a disconnect.

On the other hand, touching brings two people closer together than any other form of communication. With touch, people are able to communicate on a truly emotional level. In order for two people to meditate together touching is required. It is through that touching that you remove the solo nature of meditation and instead create an awareness of each other. Intimacy begins with touching, and if you want to build a bond with someone you need to be comfortable touching them.

How does someone meditate with another, you ask?
Here are seven simple steps to begin your journey of meditating with a partner.

1. Find a quiet place where the two of you cannot be interrupted. Turn off your phones or place them on silent. Put them out of sight to keep them out of mind.

2. Wear comfortable clothing, the same clothing you would wear when meditating by yourself as long as your partner is comfortable with that clothing.

3. Sit cross legged, facing each other.

4. Hold both of your partner’s hands. How you hold hands is up to you, just make sure you are both comfortable with the position.

5. Look into each others’ eyes. Remember, this isn’t a staring contest so you’re more than welcome to blink. Also, don’t simply stare at their eyes, instead look into their eyes as if you’re searching for something deep within their soul.

6. Breathe. Don’t chant, just breathe. If you are used to chanting when you meditate on your own this will be a bit of an adjustment, but the reason I suggest you refrain from chanting is hearing someone else’s chant may catch you off guard. Meditating together relies so much on developing a succinct rhythm together

7. Start with five minute sessions and gradually increase to your desired time in dual meditation.

There are many different methods of meditating with another. This is a good starting point as it is comfortable and doesn’t require too much effort from either participant.

Whether you have known the person you’re meditating with for a long time or for only a little, follow these steps and you will be amazed at the deep and lasting bond you have created with another.

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Karma: it’s not just intention

Woman walking down a city street

The other day I wrote about how karma isn’t the mystical and external “cosmic force” that many people think it to be — a force that impersonally metes out rewards and punishments. In a crude form this amounts to thinking things like this: if you do good things the sun will shine on your picnic, and if you do bad things it’ll rain.

Instead, karma (according to the Buddha) is to do with the ethical status of our intentions and how those naturally lead to our becoming more mired in suffering or freed from it.

Karma is psychology: do this, and you’ll feel that. Karma is about how your mind changes and becomes happier when you’re less selfish and more generous, less angry and more loving.

The word karma is basically another term for Buddhist ethics.

See also:

But the idea that karma is intention can be misused. I’ve seen lots of people, bull-in-a-china-shop-style, hurt others and then say that they didn’t do anything unskillful because they didn’t have any intention to cause harm. Heck, I’ve done it myself. But that attitude represents a narrow take on karma (and ethics), and it doesn’t take into account the subtlety of the Buddha’s teaching. Bulls should either not visit china shops, or be very careful if they do.

Let’s look at a an example of how we might play the “I can’t have done anything unskillful because I didn’t have bad intentions” game. This one probably doesn’t apply to you directly, but it’s an illustration of the principle at work.

In this video Shoshana Roberts was filmed walking silently down the street by a friend with a hidden camera. Roberts was catcalled over 100 times in ten hours. That’s just the verbal interactions, not the whistles or stares. She was followed by one man who stalked her for five minutes, often staring intensely at her from the side and demanding to know what she thought of him. Some turned critical or aggressive when they didn’t get a flirtatious response in return: “Someone’s acknowledging you for being beautiful — you should say thank you more.”

Now, I’m pretty sure most, if not all, of the men who catcalled Roberts thought they had good intentions. They probably felt they were complimenting her. But the experience of having your appearance — to be crude, your ass — commented on (“I just saw a thousand dollars!”) over and over again can be distressing. Needless to say, being followed by a stranger can be very threatening.

I’d imagine (or hope) that there aren’t many people reading this blog who do anything as crude as cat-call strangers, but I’m sure  in your own life you do things that cause distress to others. We become aware of these most often in regard to the people we live with. We might forget to tidy up after ourselves or not express appreciation. We don’t mean to do these things of course — but that’s the very point: if we’re interested in living ethically then we need to become more conscious of our deeper motivations. Becoming aware of how our actions affect others is how we discover unskillful motivations that we haven’t yet brought into consciousness

We need to be aware of not just what we think are our intentions, but to dig deeper. This is something the Buddha himself stressed:

Having done a verbal action, you should reflect on it: ‘This verbal action I have done — did it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Was it an unskillful verbal action, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful verbal action with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it… you should exercise restraint in the future.

Because the thing is, it’s not always easy to know our own intentions. It’s easy for us to fool ourselves. But if you know that many women don’t like being given random “compliments” on the street, then when you continue to do so it’s no longer about them, it’s about you. Your intention is revealed as not being about complimenting another person in order to do them a favor, but about expressing your (unwanted) attraction. It becomes about control: I want your smile, so I catcall; if you don’t give me what I want I’ll get nasty. It becomes about you imposing your will on another person — which is why the women involved in that video have received death and rape threats for having made it.

We can’t avoid causing harm or hurting people. The Buddha pointed out that sometimes we have say things that will cause distress. But he set a high bar for this: we have to consider, before we say such a thing: are our words true, are they expressed kindly, are they intended to help the other person, are they crafted in such a way that they’ll lead to harmony, and are they expressed at the right time (a requirement that implies a good knowledge of the other person’s state of receptivity)?

People were upset with the Buddha all the time! But it’s a noble effort to work on reducing the amount of pain we cause.

There’s a kind of brutal honesty required in looking for our real intentions. We really need to acknowledge the harm we’re doing, and if it doesn’t seem at first that we have any intention to harm, we need to look deeper. When we’re habitually causing distress or harm to others, then there’s some attitude there that needs to be brought to light.

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Mindfulness training can improve quality of life for memory impaired and their caregivers

wildmind meditation news

Medical News Today: Mindfulness training for individuals with early-stage dementia and their caregivers together in the same class was beneficial for both groups, easing depression and improving sleep and quality of life, reports new Northwestern Medicine study.

“The disease is challenging for the affected person, family members and caregivers,” said study lead author Ken Paller, professor of psychology at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern and a fellow of the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Although they know things will likely get worse, they can learn to focus on the present, deriving enjoyment in the moment with acceptance and without excessive worry about the future. This is what was taught in the mindfulness program.”

The study was published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s are particularly hard on caregivers, who are often close family members. They tend to have an increased incidence of anxiety, depression, immune dysfunction and other health concerns as well as an increased mortality rate, according to prior studies.

This is the first study to show that the caregiver and the patient both benefit from undergoing mindfulness training together. This is important because caregivers often don’t have much time on their own for activities that could relieve their emotional burden.

The training also helps the patient and caregiver accept new ways of communicating, scientists said.

“One of the major difficulties that individuals with dementia and their family members encounter is that there is a need for new ways of communicating due to the memory loss and other changes in thinking and abilities,” noted study co-author Sandra Weintraub, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Feinberg and a neuropsychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “The practice of mindfulness places both participants in the present and focuses on positive features of the interaction, allowing for a type of connection that may substitute for the more complex ways of communicating in the past. It is a good way to address stress.”

The study included 37 participants including 29 individuals who were part of a patient-caregiver pair. Most of the patients were diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to dementia. Others had memory loss due to strokes or frontotemporal dementia, which affects emotions as well as speaking and understanding speech. Caregivers included patients’ spouses, adult children, a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law.

Although the individuals with Alzheimer’s had mild to severe memory loss, they still were able to use other cognitive functions to participate in the mindfulness training and to experience emotion and positive feelings, Weintraub noted.

The participants attended eight sessions designed specifically for the needs of patients with memory loss due to the terminal neurodegenerative illness (dementia) and for the needs of their caregivers. Both groups completed an assessment within two weeks of starting the program and within two weeks of completing it.

Paller had expected mindfulness to be helpful for dementia caregivers based on previous research in the field. But he was uncertain whether a program would be successful for patients with memory impairments and whether patients and their caregivers could be trained together.

“We saw lower depression scores and improved ratings on sleep quality and quality of life for both groups,” said Paller, director of the cognitive neuroscience program. “After eight sessions of this training we observed a positive difference in their lives.”

“Mindfulness involves attentive awareness with acceptance for events in the present moment,” Paller said. “You don’t have to be drawn into wishing things were different. Mindfulness training in this way takes advantage of people’s abilities rather than focusing on their difficulties.”

Developing mindfulness is about learning different habits and a person has to practice a new habit for it to stick, Paller noted.

Paller said he hoped the study findings would encourage caregivers to seek out resources for learning mindfulness for themselves and the individuals with illness.

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