Being attuned to another person starts with being attuned to oneself

Being attuned to others, being on another’s wavelength, is a vital but much neglected skill. “You’re not hearing me”, is a frequently stated complaint by people who feel others aren’t understanding or appreciating their standpoint. Thus do conflicts occur. Empathy too, the ability to see a matter from another’s perspective is rightly emphasised in leadership development but it is very common to find this skill to be lacking in emerging leaders. It is often also missing in couples who don’t get along together. To have empathy, we first need to tune into another and have clear perception.

Attunement to another involves being attuned to ourselves. That’s where we learn it, as too from a parent who pays us attention, listens to us, and gets us. If we didn’t get that attunement from a parent, we can still learn it later ourselves. Here’s where mindfulness can give us the ability to learn to tune into ourselves, on a regular basis if you have a mindfulness practice. Simply by attending to the flow of the mind while keeping an open, non-judgemental perspective, you can notice, monitor and modify your own state, your feelings and your thoughts. You can get finely attuned to your different moods and to how your body feels, and how you react to different situations. You can get to know yourself very well this way. This sensitivity to yourself can then be extended to others.

Knowing ourselves from the inside

This is the process of interoception, the skill of perceiving inside ourselves and being able to sense what is going on. A mental body scan does this quite well, and with practice you can do it fairly quickly. We use the mind to scan, so to speak, through the body, tuning into sensations and feelings, pains and discomforts, unaccessed emotions, tension, energy, unmet need, longings, desires. Then you can use the practice of mindfulness to observe what comes up and, with practice, you can yet stay detached from it. Then you can learn also how to manage it differently through this state of being the non-judgemental accepting witness of what occurs rather than thinking that this is you. This then also applies to your attunement to others.

As we learn to be better attuned to ourselves and understand what that means, we are more alert and aware with others too. In fact through our attunement to ourselves we can learn to recognise senses and feelings that can also tell us about another and their needs, and to discriminate between what is our stuff and what might be another’s. This growing knowledge helps us with empathy towards others and our ability to support them. Then of course we need to recognise when we are perceiving others through our own coloured glasses of our stuff, and when we not, and when we can set our own glasses on one side and truly be there for another, what in Gestalt Therapy is called “the rule of époché”, or bracketing off our own stuff. To make this distinction is very important. Self awareness is key here.

People who work with others, like therapists or coaches, often need to do this work on themselves if they are to be more effective in helping others. This also applies to leaders, although relatively few take this journey to any serious degree. More’s the pity since the world would be a better place if they did.

How to be present when others are losing it

Do you struggle to know how to be present with someone when they are upset or angry, or when you are tired or going through it yourself? I’m very often struck by how people can lack the ability to “be with” people emotionally, especially those who work professionally with people in challenging situations. It’s like our buttons get pushed or we feel inadequate or lack the resources we need. Somehow, people say, they “aren’t qualified” to handle it.

It will be all right
It will be all right

When people kick off

I remember once on a Gestalt training course unpacking a whole load of grief around the impact of divorce on my contact with my younger son, and how I verbalised it to the group in a way that the facilitator later said she was “out of it” for the duration of my work. I recall she was a parent herself. So this can challenge even seasoned professionals. Luckily I had another who  worked with me.

Yet this doesn’t just apply to professionals. Anybody can face this at times. What about when your partner kicks off about some hurt or pain and it’s you that happens to be there – and they need you to be there? What do you do? Do you do what so many do, and shift about uncomfortably, tell people “not to mind” and “it will be OK”, and not get upset, etc? Who are you really helping here, the person kicking off, or actually you yourself? Are you really telling them to stop?

What we don’t like is being faced with powerful emotions that tap into our own stuff, especially if it touches our own doubts and inadequacies. Yet, there are resources available, if you choose to access them.

Being resourceful: self awareness and self management

One is self awareness and self management, in this case the ability to be aware of your own process and how your buttons can get triggered by other people’s stuff. It helps to know yourself enough to know what is your stuff in this situation, of course! This is often all about personal development – that doing your own journey bit, dare I say, that many of us are today afraid to do. It is also about how you self manage, in this case choose not to get caught up in your own stuff but put it on one side, the rule of epoché in Gestalt terms.

Presence

Another is the ability to be present, to be right there in the moment, thoughts and feelings on pause (I’ll say more about that in a moment), in the “here and now”, still in yourself, centred, at One as I keep writing on this blog, connected with some energy  centre or chakra within like your heart centre region or, in the case of powerful emotion, perhaps your power centre in the  solar plexus region. So that you are aligned with  Source as you are “with” another. “Being with” is all about being present with them. So you are truly “with” them, in support, with mind, body and soul, right there in the moment.

Empathy and respect

Your stance matters hugely too. So think about  it. Here is needed Carl Rogers’ empathy and unconditional positive regard. So you respect utterly the other person right there where they are and what is going on for them. No judgement (this can be tough, but it really matters). No conditions attached. In fact  you  are unattached to everything, including how you feel. You have to let go of all that. And you empathise with them, which is to seek as far as humanly possible to see things from their perspective, although  you cannot “know how they feel”. Thus you can hear their story. And you hear it like you get it. So that they feel heard, which is what so many people need. They may not need to be fixed (which is what so many men try to do  with  women, by the way!). Here’s where you truly stop and be with them in their pain.

Then they will feel supported. You don’t have to take their side, or agree with them, or blame them. Just be there. In peace, bringing peace. Om shanti.

I coach people and give training in these core skills. To contact  me, click here

Do you worry that your mind keeps you awake?

It’s a dilemma when you can’t sleep at night because your mind is busy, and then you start to worry that your mind is keeping you awake. Your mind might be churning things over and then you’re fearful that it is doing this and stopping you sleeping. Worrying that we can’t sleep is a major factor in insomnia, and having a busy mind is a major contributor to the problem. It’s a very good reason to learn to manage your mind and is where mindfulness can be so powerful.

You might for example lie down after a busy day in which you have been very mentally active and then find yourself staying awake, unable to sleep, or so it seems, your mind going over certain issues that are concerning you. Then, as time ticks by, and the thought that you need to be up early comes to you, there’s that stabbing feeling in your gut as you feel the anxiety that this thinking is keeping you awake, that you’ve got a sleepless night ahead and that you still have to get up early. It’s like that deadline gives you an imperative that you must sleep and you believe you need that sleep, and still you’re thinking things over, and you’re worried that you’re doing it!

Time to pause and get what’s going on! And let go!

Not so easy until you’ve done some work on all this and can see the pattern, what you’re doing to yourself, and can interrupt that pattern and work to manage your thoughts and let go. It takes, in a sense, training and practice.

The idea that we can manage our thoughts can be a challenging one to people who feel they are prisoners to their thoughts. Yet this is precisely what we need to do. Very often it is about becoming aware that your mind is busy, catching yourself doing it, challenging the pattern and stopping it in some way. It is something that can be consciously done, but as I said, it needs awareness – and coaching.

The role of mindfulness

Mindfulness practice plays a big part, learning to be aware of your thoughts but not caught up in them. With mindfulness you can become the aware witness of your thoughts, but unattached to them, so that they can pass you by. This too takes practice, and meditation is a very valuable tool to help you learn to do it effectively.

Then you know you have inside you a calm, steady, centred place that you can go to. You can learn to let go of thinking and be still and in the moment. You can let go of thinking and of anxiety too, and be present. You can be unattached to deadlines, and to how things “ought” to be, and just let things be, just as they are.

As you calm yourself and let go of thoughts, you can then let your natural sleepiness to come to you, of its own accord.

Just as we can have bliss be present too, our natural joy and contentment.

Further help

I give coaching to help people manage their minds and practice mindfulness. To contact me, click here.

There is an excellent online CBT-based course on Sleeping that also uses mindfulness in a part of it. Click here.

Letting go can be the hardest thing to do

Do you find you get so caught up in something that you don’t see that what you really need to do is let go? We can get so attached to something that hanging on to the direction we’re taking seems the only option and we thus lack choices about alternatives. Letting go of “it” can seem a weakness, giving up.

It can seem obvious to an outsider but to us in the middle of “it”, whatever that is, “it” is all that matters. You want something to happen but “it” won’t oblige! The frustration builds up and we work all the harder to try to make “it” happen, with a resulting log-jam in the universal delivery service. So, what’s to be done, if anything?

For those of us caught in today’s rat-race, trying to bring in the cash, trying to square all sorts of competing demands on our time, trying to stay on course, we get locked into a way of thinking and thus deprive ourselves of the ability to see the bigger picture. For some it’s not till they get sick or some other event happens that compels them to pause and assess what’s going on.

With mindfulness, what happens is that we step back from the content of our lives, bring our minds away from what we’re caught up in, or whatever our mind is doing, come into the moment and can see what’s going on. Being able to take this perspective means we can see what is happening while it’s happening. You learn to witness yourself in action. You learn that these thoughts are not who you are. This awareness is just a breath away.

To let go is part of the process. Once you take your awareness away from being caught up in “it”, you let go. With this approach we are also non-judgemental and accepting. Thus it gives us freedom. So when we let go, we allow all sorts of possibilities to be present, we “allow” the universe to do what is needed, which could be what you really want – except that you are no longer driven by it, attached to it, and equally you are open to other possibilities. It’s a paradox. To get what you want you have to let go of it.

If there’s an ounce (or gram!) of attachment, then it doesn’t work. You need to find a way to totally let go. Then the log-jam can clear and things can flow again. When we are caught up, we can’t see this, or don’t want to.

So, have a think: what are you at this moment attached to that you need to let go of? Often this is uncomfortable, because what we don’t include in this are the very things we need to let go of most. So your list for letting go would need to include your strongest attachments. And in your struggle over this, you can use mindfulness to witness the part of you that is attached and see what that might be about too.

This is where peace lies.

 

Be present and aware and start enjoying your life

You must just pause a moment and check where your mind has been focused over the last hour or half-hour. How much do you let yourself really be present and aware of what’s happening right now?

For example, if you’re travelling to or from work, how much do you notice what’s around you, who you are with, what’s going on? Or is your mind preoccupied, such as with what’s been happening, or what might happen, or what’s on your phone? Are you off ruminating about things? Is your mind doing what it habitually does?

So, take a deep breath or two, become really aware, let go of those thoughts and give yourself a moment to really be present and aware of this moment….and this moment…and this one too.

When people are dying they often express regret that they didn’t do the simple things in life, like being with their loved ones, enjoying a sunset, spending time in their favourite place, just taking pleasure in being alive.

We’re so often away with our thoughts about the workplace, what’s going on, worrying about might happen, catastrophising, being irritated with what someone did or didn’t do, and the million and one other thoughts we have that fill our mind and can give us grief. Just check again with the suggestion I made at the start of this post, and recall what you have been thinking about recently and see whether it fits a pattern. It can be useful to spot these patterns and interrupt them.

To be present and aware is to be mindful

Mindfulness involves becoming present and aware, in the moment. It’s a superb tool for getting ourselves out of our preoccupations and ruminations, and getting off all those thoughts that don’t serve us. You may even already know this. But do you practice it, or does it just sit there as another idea, another “nice to do”, something I’ll “get round to sometime” (but not now)? Yet it is said that now is all you’ve got. This moment and the next. All else is our thoughts.

So spend some time right now being in the moment. Be aware of your breathing. And each time you find your mind has wandered, simply bring it back to the moment and being aware of your breathing.

And allow yourself to really enjoy this moment, and enjoy being alive, present and aware, as who you are. En-joy, breathe in the joy of this moment, and let your soul shine, as it is meant to do.

If you sign up for the free ecourse to the top left of this post, you can receive more help with developing this vital skill – and become alive once again.

Mindfulness teaches that you are not your thoughts

It’s so easy to spend much of our lives wrapped up with, if not the prisoner, of what we think. Yet, after becoming aware that something is going on for you, that you are “caught up” in your thoughts, the crucial next stage is to be able to “step back” from the content of your mind. This is a very important shift in awareness and it underlines a vital aspect of mindfulness, that you can control what you focus on and that you are not your thoughts. Put another way, thoughts are not facts; they are simply thoughts in your field of awareness.

Mindfulness and thoughts

We’re usually unconsciously full of thoughts, one following another, and their accompanying feelings. It can seem that that is just how things are, and it can follow that we can be prey to all sorts of uncomfortable thoughts if things aren’t going so well. You might of course try to make a big effort to suppress them, but they can have a knack of springing back, particularly if they’ve hit a raw nerve. A lot of this is unconscious or habitual: we’ve usually thought in particular ways, and have probably done so for eons. It can be compulsive. Thus we tend to say we get “caught up” in particular content, particular lines of thought.

With mindfulness, we “step back”, pause the mental stream and notice something’s happening, and detach ourselves from being “caught up” in it. This is not a closed off, batten down the hatches, big effort of control stuff, this is simply becoming aware and releasing ourselves from what we’re thinking. In a sense we might still be thinking it, but part of us, what some call an “aware self”, notices that this is what’s going on. Using intention, the act of will, we become aware of ourselves thinking it, whatever “it” is.

And it isn’t us. We aren’t our thoughts. We’re so much more than these thoughts. These thoughts aren’t real. They aren’t facts. They are simply thoughts, which come and go, like clouds in a blue sky. With mindfulness, we seek to train ourselves to make this vital distinction.

It takes practice. People sometimes need to learn how to make this distinction with mindfuless and thoughts, and to see where in their lives this is habitual, and how this unuseful thinking crops up and messes things up for them.

Once people start to get this skill, they discover a hugely powerful tool that can transform their lives. You can learn more about all this with our very useful free e-course, to the top left of this blog post that you are reading.

Do you find mindfulness difficult to practice?

The benefits of mindfulness practice can often seem outweighed by their pitfalls in the eyes of many who “try” it and give up, seemingly deterred by for example their very busy minds and by all the things that come up once one pauses and attends to the moment. “It’s very difficult” is a comment I hear a lot, an odd one, you might think, when all you’re being asked to do, is do nothing at all, attend to your breath and let go.

Meditation
Meditation

Yet it’s when we do this, be still and become aware, that we get what’s really going on. Many report that what they get is a chaos of thoughts, and an urge to get up and do something, or intense guilt at “doing nothing” like we should be “doing something useful”, or a fidgeting like we think we “can’t” keep still. After several sessions they might give up believing they aren’t getting what they started the practice to get, such as calmness of mind, or relaxation, or less stress.

What is important to realise is that mindfulness practice, and meditation if you are also wanting to meditate, is about sitting still, going within, attending to the breath (and/or a mantra), and being aware. What happens is part of the practice (well, it is for many teachers anyway!) and you are seeking to become the observer of your thoughts rather than “being the thinker”. What you are doing here is letting go of “doership”, thinking you are the thinker and that you “do” your thoughts. Instead, you let go of this belief and allow yourself to observe your thoughts. You are not your thoughts. You can think (!) something like, “Isn’t this interesting!”, notice yourself being engaged in thinking, and then take a deeper breath, breathe out (in a sense) the thoughts, and return your awareness to your breath. And repeat this every time you catch yourself thinking. Gradually the thoughts diminish. Yet you might still have “busy” meditations, and a lesson can be to accept these too.

Thus, with mindfulness practice, you are being aware of breathing, noticing any thoughts that arise, and returning to being aware of your breath. It is a practice and the benefits accrue over months and years. It’s not instant. We live in a “have it now” society and so it isn’t easy to make the shift and to accept that it will take time. Yet patience, acceptance and letting go are all part of what is involved and what it teaches us. Treat your practice as a time to pause, regain your equilibrium, re-balance yourself, and re-connect with your essence. Over time you will learn more and more to centre yourself, which you can live out in your life in general, and to sense inside who you really are. We live such hectic, stressful, busy lives and we get so caught up in all sorts of dramas that we lose touch with our essence. Thus we need this quiet time, this reminder, re-mind-er, to get back in touch with who we are and our real purpose and intention in life. It’s a treasure.