A few weekends ago my husband and I traveled down to LA for a family wedding and decided to make a road trip out of it. This was a big deal for us as we haven't traveled just us, no other family, for more than a night in over 2 years. BIG DEAL! Well this trip we were driving down with our cousin and the first and main part of our trip was for family. After the wedding we also had a lot of alone time while driving up 395.
I didn't realize how profound this trip would be. Not only for my mental cleansing, but feeling a new level of threshold of discomfort. When you are riding in the car for hours on end with a person you spend most of your days with you would think you've got things pretty much on lock down, but no. In a road trip you are faced with the nuances of your relationship with your partner, your body and the world around you. There is no escaping into tv land, there is no escaping to the garden, there is only you, your partner, and the terrain you are surrounded by.
Just like in meditation in the beginning it is difficult, so you start out with only 5 minutes or so. Then you increase as your tolerance and your yearning grows. In the road trip, the first leg, I was NOT the driver, so I had to give up control immediately. That was DIFFICULT. So instead I worked on some yoga homework for my teacher training, pranayama for cooling the body temperature down (it was so hot on I-5 to LA) and journaling. I was able to process the emotions that showed up and was able to step back internally and stay with the work of noticing. Unlike in the comforts of your own home/space you can walk away or shut down when things get uncomfortable. Not in a road trip.
In a car you have to literally sit with it!
Not only when thoughts and emotions arise do we need to notice them, but we need to acknowledge that they are there. When communicating with another person, in my situation my husband, whatever the issue that is coming up for you, it needs to be addressed. When you feel heard by the other person you are less likely to react with harsh words. Yes or No? Same when we can notice our thoughts and emotions. You also might to begin to name emotions faster. Or you may notice the amount of time the thoughts or emotions stay around once they have been seen and named.
Mindful listening and mindful language is a big part of the practice I have undertaken in the past year. How to be mindful not only in a marriage, or a road trip, but in life? Here is what I have found through my discoveries.
1. Notice. What is showing up in this moment? Usually when we are having a conversation with someone and you begin to feel activated it's not the other person who is activating us, it is usually us. Unless you actually have someone verbally assaulting you, whatever the topic of discussion is and you are feeling activated it's probably something that you need to notice and see what is showing up.
2. Listen. Listening without judgement. It's easier said than done, but when you feel heard you are less likely to respond in a reactive way. By mindfully listening to the person we can keep ourselves and the other persons (even though it is not our jobs to do this, it's a kind human thing to do) nervous systems in homeostasis/Social Engagement.
3. Breathe. Before you respond to the other person take a breath or 10. Again whatever emotions show up, if we honor them by noticing, the quicker we come back into Social Engagement. Also by breathing your giving yourself time before you respond. This allows the body to take fuller breaths so you can stay in a parasympathetic/calm state of being instead of short chest breaths that keep you activated in a sympathetic/activated state.
4. Speak. Ask yourself these questions before you speak: Is this true? Is it kind? Is it of benefit to say? Sometimes when we are activated we want to say the first thing that pops into our heads. 90% of the time the initial thoughts can be very hurtful and incomplete in what we are actually feeling in response to the situation.
5.Space. Sometimes the best thing to do is to give yourself some space from the situation. For example if you are talking about an ongoing scenario (i.e. budgeting) sometimes you say what you have to say and then ask your partner if you need space to come back to it soon. When we have space we can integrate the experience more and move in and out from our emotional edge of uncomfortableness.
Tufa's in Mono Lake, Lee Irving, CA
Not only was being in the car a tool for addressing confusion or worries fast, the surroundings of PURE nature and mountains really will wash away ANY anxieties. I look forward to MORE nature trips maybe less car next time. I once read that whenever we feel upset or frustrated about our lives we should think about how we are on this giant rock rotating around a ball of fire in this vast universe. So who are we? What really are our problems? We are so small in comparison, even though our pain is real and uncomfortable it is only a minute moment in this time and place we are coexisting in. We really don't have any power to control other people or the situations that arise. We can do the little baby steps to stay connected to our own universe within our bodies within this vast universe. Look at these ancient Bristle Pinecones! They know more than we do as they are the most ancient trees on the plant (almost 5,000 years old)!
Ancient Bristlecone Pine forest, just outside of Bishop, CA
So whatever trip you are taking this summer (maybe just a quick trip on the BART to work) and you notice that you are getting activated, take time before you jump in/jump out. Emotions and thoughts come and go and they move faster when they get awareness brought to them. Take deep breaths to self-regulate. Practicing kind, true and beneficial words when communicating. Finally sometimes space is what we really need when we cannot see eye to eye with someone.
Have you mastered mindful communication skills? Have I left something out? Let me know in the comments below.
If you would like other resources on communication and honoring your path here are two books I recommend:
The Art of Communication, by Thich Nhat Hanh
Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer