So what if I asked you to say something pleasant about someone else? How hard could that be? What if I asked you to speak uninterrupted for one minute?
A little challenging, but not impossible I guess.
More importantly, what if I asked you to say something pleasant about some one we might otherwise describe as an irritant? Find for me the things that you respect in them, or acknowledge what you see as their achievements.
Still so easy?
I regularly ask this of attendees on my mindfulness programmes.
And at the same time we observe our speakers. Watching for juxtaposition of verbal and physical messages. It proves a very strong challenge. In most cases their bodies give off much incongruence even before they have started speaking.
Then, when we discuss it afterwards people often say that it was frustrating because they really felt the need to share, or contextualise, what so irritates them about said person. Often feeling genuinely physically uncomfortably about suppressing those apparently necessary nuggets of criticism.
And then I ask them of I gave them 10 minutes to explain what so annoys them, would they be feel so compelled to insert a positive counterpoint somewhere in that monologue …. the room fills with knowing smiles. Often it is pointed out they could continue for at least 30.
This exercise is offered as an exercise in compassion and it genuinely challenges most who undertake it.
What is it in the human condition that finds it so much easier to be critical. And then I think of those “voices in our heads” – how often do they offer us praise? How often do we pat ourselves on the back? More likely we remind ourselves of our shortcomings.
And then I think of time at stables and my discussions with other – well-meaning – horse owners. How often do we talk of horses in terms of their shortcomings or their character flaws. How often do we apologise for them.
What of us as parents, as colleagues, as neighbours ….. the list is endless. We celebrate as humans the power of our critical minds, but perhaps we need to watch more closely and give less rein to its criticisms.
I do not believe for one minute that we are so motivated by ill will to others. So what do we do then?
I invite us all to develop an awareness of those voices, those tendencies, those harmless, “we didn’t mean it really” barbs. Perhaps we could see them in our speech or learn to spot them on our tongues – or maybe feel their emotion rising within ourselves.
And when we do then we can learn to pause. And in that pause take a breath and consider, do we need to share this observation. Or is there something more appropriate that we might consider. Something helpful, something objective, something kinder.
(c) The Mindful Horse