“Be mindful of your self-talk. It’s a conversation with the universe.” David James Lees
Mindfulness is—in the words of the Zoolander villain Mugatu—“so hot right now.” There’s no shortage of speculation on the reasons many people are seeking ways to reconnect to presence, a key concept of mindfulness. Reasons range from the deeply cynical to, what I consider, optimistic to the point of delusion. I place myself somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Mindfulness allows me to ease fixation on the past and anxiety about the future while appreciating and observing moments of existence as they occur. Over the years it has become increasingly connected to the way I understand my communication internally and externally. We’ll get back to that in a moment. First allow me to give you a little context on my relationship with mindfulness.
Not to sound like a hipster at the latest local microbrewery, but I was into mindfulness before it was cool. That’s an exaggeration, but it was certainly before lifehacker.com wrote about a study evaluating 700 mobile mindfulness app options (link here: http://lifehacker.com/the-best-mindfulness-apps-ranked-in-one-chart-1726392024). I’ve always had a bit of a neurotic streak. This was not helped by the trials and tribulations of high school, where I began experiencing my first ever-existential crises. Probably partly in the hopes of reducing the number of visits I made to his office, a student advice counselor lent me CDs (yup, CDs still very much a thing at this time) of Mindfulness pioneer Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s guided meditations. I didn’t really get it and admittedly felt a bit silly when I sat on the floor trying to monitor my breath. If any of you ever watched “Tiny Toon Adventures” there was a New Age, mediation, chanting expert called Shirley
“the Loon” McLoon (real subtle wordplay there; I did indeed do research to verify this character’s identity) and that’s kind of what I felt like—a loon. But I liked that there was no agenda except focusing on the breath, clearing the mind, and becoming aware of the present moment.
Over the years I’ve dipped in and out of regular mindfulness meditation during times of stress or health-kicks and now I practice it regularly alongside yoga. I do use the app simply called “Mindfulness,” which has a feature allowing you to choose times of day to receive a mindfulness notification like, “Take six breaths with full awareness.” And I find that helpful. Where it’s really become influential recently is my development of ideas on how our thought patterns influence our communication skills. The concept of “self-talk” is another current hot topic across many contexts involving some kind of performance, whether athletic, artistic, or traditional presentations. My understanding, based on the pop-neuroscience reading I’ve done, suggests that our internal (non-voiced) and external (voiced) thoughts affect our brain’s neural pathways, which in turn impact the body on a number of levels. In my mind this chain reaction contributes to different behaviors manifesting in our internal and external acts of communication.
That process is why I am so intrigued by the relationship of voice/body work to mindfulness. How we think about challenges, events, and good moments in our day affects the way we communicate them to the outside world. I notice these shifts most at two extremes: tired/stressed and happy/energized. In the first my voice sits in a croaky place that’s often disconnected from my breath, leading to monotone, de-energized sound. With the second I feel the fullness of my voice being powered by the breath and find playful shifts in expression.
Obviously these are two very clear differences and there’s a vast spectrum of emotion and sensation we interact with day-to-day, but the way mindfulness fits in for me is the ability to notice how I’m impacting my own self-talk. Taking ten minutes to focus on the breath, on presence, opens up the possibility of choosing how I respond to fatigue and stress moment by moment. Making the choice to focus on the breath helps the voice and body function better and makes me feel more grounded and capable in my communication with others, even encourages the voice to regain some vitality instead of leaning in to a low-energy mentality. Many people have experienced moments where they’re forced to make this shift, doing a fake-it-til-you make-it to get through a presentation or any important day when you’ve been up all night. My interest is how actively linking a sustained mindfulness practice to communication might change the ways we talk: inside, outside, about the self to the self, about the self to others, and of course, to others about themselves and the world.
Consider this a preliminary discussion, I’ll be looking at more focused aspects of mindful communication in upcoming posts. It’s important to bear in mind that mindfulness is still very much in the subjective realm, although this NYT blog post my mom sent me discusses some new research that seeks to nail down scientific evidence for overall benefits of mindfulness: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/02/18/contemplation-therapy/?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=0
(Thanks, mom!) The point is, remember to honor your experiences and feel free to send any thoughts on what this provokes for you.
Happy talking and self-talking!