By Carol Hendershot

“The willingness to show up changes us, It makes us a little braver each time.”  Brene’ Brown

I don’t know how many times I’ve agonized over that question or a similar one like, “I really screwed that up, what made me yell at him like that?” or “I know I’m right about this, why can’t she see it?” or  “I wonder if he thinks I’m an idiot for saying that?”  I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time sitting with either my embarrassment or my self-righteousness.

Through the lens of  mindfulness, I began to see that the focus was all on what I had said or done and what the other person “thought” about what I had said or done. I saw that I was missing a lot by thinking about what I wanted to say next or how I was going to support my position. Then, there was all the distress in struggling with the emotional pain, embarrassment, and shame over my reactivity and misunderstandings.  “OUCH!”

When I became aware of what I was doing, I thought, “No problem, now I know what to do. I’ll just do something different.” But of course, it wasn’t that easy!

In our mindfulness classes we have a metaphor for the neuro-pathways in our brains that keep us doing the same old things, over and over again. We call them Cow Paths, and apparently my interpersonal patterns were an interconnected network of major CATTLE superhighways!  Once I was on one, forget it, I was lost.

Even though, my meditation practice had gotten me to the point where I could have extended periods of peace on my cushion, put me in a room with another emotional human being and my mindfulness went right out the window.

I am so grateful that my mindfulness practice gave me the ability to pause and see what was happening and the ability to step back and not take it so personally, but I still needed a way to not be so hard on myself.

That was when I got serious about self-compassion. Self-compassion gave me a way to calm the voices of self-criticism and to understand more deeply what was going on inside me. It helped me understand in a deep way that I wasn’t alone in this struggle, that everybody suffers, especially when it comes to being with others. It gave me a way to be kind to myself and to soothe myself in those moments when I was most likely to be really mean. You know, the times when you can say things to yourself that you would never say to a dear friend.

But even with these wonderful tools, I was still saying and doing things in the heat of the moment that I regretted the moment they left my mouth.

About three years ago, I attended an Insight Dialogue Retreat and began a practice of interpersonal mindfulness. That was when the awareness finally dawned on me that being in a healthy, loving relationship wasn’t something I could learn by myself.  Yes, I used the word LEARN. I could have used the word cultivate or develop and they would all capture a sense of what I had to do. I had to learn to pause in those tense moments, to open to this other person without losing touch with myself, to listen deeply and to reach down inside and speak what was true for me in that moment. And, any deep learning requires PRACTICE. A new journey began.

The good news is that I’ve attended three more Insight Dialogue Retreats, I’ve trained to teach the Interpersonal Mindfulness Program, I’ve led two groups of courageous people through the course and I’ve learned a lot. Do I still react? Sure! Do I still say stupid things? Definitely! But I’m a lot less likely to bite my husband’s head off, I can often really listen to a friend or colleague and I believe my relationships are deeper.

Please consider taking this journey with me this fall. Our third Interpersonal Mindfulness Program starts on Thursday, October 29, with Free Information Sessions the two weeks before. I would love to see you there.