Communication Skills 102
The little prayer said in AA, is perhaps one of the best reminders about how we can change ourselves and keep it all in perspective: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”
“The first step is to not blame, judge or critique another persons reaction, it is their reaction and so we can just accept it how it is and enter from here.” – Betsy
The most difficult step is to be able to accept the happenings as they are. To change ourselves this step has to be done as without it we will not be able to do anything to make a real change in our reality. We will be willing to accept what can’t be changed, when we see the profound truth, that it fact it’s already happened – it is the past and this is exactly why we can’t change it. Then what we are left with is ‘our next action’, which boils down to how we respond to what has already happened…
Our capability to accept happenings how they are has to do with our capability to stay consciously present, in the moment. Our capability to be consciously present grows over time as we learn how better we can accept our happenings. Our conditioned behavior is the main obstacle for us that doesn’t allow us to accept the present moment. Primarily this has to do with our emotional response. Our conditioned behaviors have been laid down and practiced since we were children, and thus we are mostly unconscious about them simply because we have been using them for so long. The reality for most of us today is that we were born into a hostile and dark world, with parents (and probably all humans in our lives who surrounded us) who never grew up and responded to life in this worn-out childish conditioned way, and thus were not able to give us the love and nurturing we needed as we grew up. Having no grownups around to show us another way to survive, then as ‘fragile and vulnerable beings’, we did the same as ‘our examples’ and adapted our own special conditioned way to respond to life as a means to survive and protect ourselves. What we need to know NOW is that in order to ‘grow up’ and become sovereign adults, we will need to learn about the particulars of the survival mechanism we adopted as children, in order to be able to do the next step to drop it and go beyond behaving like vulnerable children in a hostile world.
When it happens that we respond to life out of our conditioning, then what triggers this behavior is the emotion we are feeling inside, then our corresponding mental ‘flight or fight’ response (our defense) we will use to justify our emotion, resulting in a circle of mind activity turning around to support the feeling inside our body. To stop our conditioned way of responding, we have to transmute our emotion (stop feeding it) as this is the strongest component of our reaction as it is happening in our body. We feed the emotion via conscious justification of it by using our mental defense system. As long as we do this mental activity the emotion will stay alive and strong within us. Unexpressed and undealt with emotions, will build up pressure within and eventually find their outlet to the outside – usually in a very unpleasant way… In essence, this is our conditioned protection mechanism. To get out of it, we have to withdraw our consciousness away from our thinking and redirect our focus into the body. Our capability to accept the present moment, will grow as we grow in our capability to accept our own emotional response and not react out of it.
While all of this is speaking of an ideal, it doesn’t matter where one is in one’s ability to accept one’s own reaction and the reaction of what is happening outside of us, as it is a growing process. If it turns out that we weren’t consciously present and reacted out of our conditioning, we can still use the happening ‘after-the-fact’ to gather information about our behavior from it. The best resource for this is other people, especially if they might have been on the receiving end of our reaction. If our reaction happened in a setting where there was more than one person, then getting multiple viewpoints of ourselves from other people, can be extremely informative. In essence, the more people we are willing to practice with, the quicker we will learn because each individual can reflect back to us a different aspect about ourselves. Also by using multiple people, we will more quickly discover the conditioned aspects about ourselves, because the repeating parts of ourselves will become apparent across multiple viewpoints.
To be able to accept the reaction happening outside of us, one has to have the capability to accept one’s own reaction. One can’t come before the other. Basically this is a listening skill, and the first thing we need to learn to listen to is… what is happening inside of us…in the moment…when…we are feeling…a strong reaction. Over time as we get more calm inside and are able to monitor our own emotional response, then our capability to listen to the emotional response of the other will also grow. The most important skill to learn is the ability to monitor one’s own emotional response, as it happens. The best setting to practice this, is in our relationships with other human beings. When we are in dialog with another person we should keep an eye turned within to feel our emotional body and also an eye turned without to watch the emotional body of the other to see how our expression might be affecting them. If we are very observant and present we might notice a reaction happening in the other, via observation of their bodily response even before they know about it – then we can gently bring it to out into the open by asking the other about it and ‘nip it in the bud’ (our reaction and theirs…)
During an exchange if we feel an emotion rising in ourselves, then this is our cue that we might be starting to react out of our conditioning. Many of us are not used to looking at ourselves this way and so we need techniques to learn how to do this. There are several techniques that are easy to use and are effective. The first is to accept our emotion (like everything!), and then just allow ourselves to feel it (which doesn’t mean to react out of it!) A simple technique to ‘not react in the moment’, is to remind oneself to take some conscious breaths. Basically, by doing this step we have done a ‘mini-surrender’ and are now the observer of our happenings. This little action will give us the space to calm down the fight or flight response of our defense system, and allow ourselves to learn about it. When one is emotional we can know our body is ‘being it’. To learn about our conditioned defense system, in the moment it’s happening, we can zoom in on our bodies’ breathing and muscular response without using our mind to judge it or think about it. (If one’s consciousness is being used in mental activity, then it’s not available for being the observer. It’s a one or the other thing…)
In a non-thinking way, TRY TO FEEL ‘where’ and ‘how’ the emotion is in your body: Where do you feel the emotion in your body?, How are your face muscles?, How are your body muscles?, Where is there tension?, Is there pain in your body?, How is your bodily posture?, Are certain instincts aroused?, Where are your limbs?, Do you Swallow hard?, Do you move your shoulders or chest?, Look close to notice if your body adopts certain face, limb or body postures, How is your breathing?, Is your breathing shallow?, Is your breathing in the upper chest?, Are you holding your breath?, Are you breathing hard?, etc. After practicing this for a while, you will start to become aware of more subtle feedbacks from your body – your body is very wise and the more you learn to tune into it’s subtle senses the more you will start to pick up and hear messages from your many sensory apparatuses beyond the five (eyesight, smell, hearing, taste and touch), such as your blood pressure, your balance, your pulse rate, your respiration rate, etc.