Reflecting as a means for more mindful relationships with others

Would you like to be more mindful when engaged with loved ones? The pandemic and its aftermath left many of us with a virtual working environment in which we leave the house less. We are juggling the demands of work, caring for the home, the children, the body and mind, hobbies and passions, and relationships with those we love. Each claim on our attention requires care and each domain, neglected or not, is often visible in one shared living space.

For many, that has created less of a clear divide between work and home. Relationships with loved ones bear the brunt of this new reality. In this environment, we can unknowingly dismiss or disregard the opportunity to connect with those we love most. But it also gives us the opportunity to exercise mindfulness, to emphasize what is most important to us at any given moment, and to communicate well about what it is that is occupying our attention.

This clear communication with loved ones is ideal but not always easy to practice. Clear, kind communication can take place more often when we feel calm, centered, and connected, and when we are keeping custody of our attention.

Supports relationships
A mindfulness practice that can support being in relationship with loved ones — children, partners, and parents — is reflection. Reflection is simply repeating back to a person exactly what you hear them saying, using as much of their own language as you can.

This is a kindness first to yourself. It takes listening out of the realm of conditioned thinking, so your attention is not busy formulating your own response to what you hear. You may tend to say, “Yes, I already know but…,” or “Yes, and let me tell you how that is true for me, too,” or “That won’t work because…” Or you may tend to think about a work task or what has to happen next while listening. Using reflection, you will recognize those tendencies and pull the reins on them. The practice supports your ability to settle down inside enough to listen closely to what your loved one says.

Reflection is first and foremost a centering practice for you. You might say, “What I hear you saying is…”

Feeling heard
For the person being reflected, it is a kindness because instead of feeling ignored, the reflected person feels heard, understood, and attended to. The person speaking can take their thoughts further or clarify what they mean to say. Through reflection, the person speaking can get connected to themselves in a way that feels grounded rather than feeling misunderstood or enmeshed with the listener.

Here is what it might look like.

Child: “Hi, Mom. I found this awesome new YouTuber whose video is so cool.”

Parent: “So, you found an awesome new YouTuber who has a cool video.”

Child: “Yes. Exactly. I learned about these new Minecraft mods. I want to get them.”

Parent: “You learned about new mods you want to get.”

Child: “Yes, can I have some money to get a few new mods?”

Parent: “I hear you saying you would like some money to get a few new mods.”

Child: “Yes. I was thinking maybe I could do a few extra chores around the house.”

Parent: “Extra chores around the house. Hmm.”

At this point, you might step in and respond in whatever way seems suitable to you.

Avoids miscommunication
When reflecting, you are not solving anything, not deciding anything. The process of reflection slows down the pace of the back and forth and focuses more attention on the person being heard. When emotions are high, it is an excellent way to stay centered as a listener, to really hear what a person is thinking and feeling. It is a safe harbor from which you can avoid miscommunication, which so easily happens when emotions are charged.

When someone is suffering and you don’t know what to do or say, reflection is an excellent practice to give the other person room to allow for their pain and suffering to not be pushed to the side because it is difficult to witness. Reflection can be freeing because it encourages acceptance, allowing things to be as they are.

Practice internally
If you fear you will sound like a parrot when you reflect, you can also practice reflection internally. It will help bring you to center and slow down your own internal chatter. It will help you distinguish between your own internal process and that of your loved one (i.e., what you believe and how you feel about the topic versus what the other person believes and how they feel about it). No one else will be aware it is happening but you as it happens inside your own mind. Here is the same example, turned internally:

Child: “Hi Mom. I found this awesome new YouTuber whose video is so cool.”

Parent internally: “You found an awesome new YouTuber who has a cool video.” Externally: “Oh! Great.”

Child: “I learned about these new Minecraft mods. I want to get them.”

Parent internally: “You learned about new mods you want to get.” Externally: “I see.”

Child: “Can I have some money to get a few new mods?”

At this point you might externally reflect what you hear to slow the conversation down and see where your child takes it. This will help you separate the content of what you are hearing from the response you would like to offer:

Parent: “I hear you saying you would like some money to get a few new mods.”

Child: “Yes. I was thinking maybe I could do a few extra chores around the house.”

Parent internally: “You think you could do a few extra chores around the house.” Externally: “That sounds like a great idea. What do you propose?”

Tips:

  • Don’t wait for the hard times to practice. Get used to it by trying it out anytime. You can be transparent. Tell your loved one that you are practicing this technique you read about, and you are interested in seeing how it works
  • No reviews. It is not about getting it right, remembering every word that you hear. You can reflect only the last idea or sentence you hear and that will work great
  • You don’t have to understand what the person is saying to reflect it back to them
  • Every time you remember to reflect, it is a victory over conditioned thinking. There is no need to be hard on yourself for not remembering. That’s natural. Remembering is a victory every time it happens, and every moment is another opportunity for practice.

Debbie Cohen

Author Debbie Cohen

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