I am glad to say I’ve known what this is like, but sad to say mindfulness in a conversation with even a good friend is rare. We all get caught up in ego-driven mindsets bent on ideas of status, success, hierarchy and taste.
Some people just won’t do it. You can try to help others reach a point where they are present, but it only works with someone who is opened minded and trusting. You need someone who feels similarly like there is something lacking in typical interactions.
Typical conversations oftentimes can be more like a dueling of wit, clever responses and opinions served up in real-time, meant to satiate, provoke or “challenge” the others.
I was surprised to find the other night that my friend felt the same dissatisfaction as I had felt. The dissatisfaction wasn’t with ourselves or each other necessarily, but with how we as a group of friends communicated.
My own experience had been that the conversations we typically had were like a wrestling match of opinions and assumptions agreed upon simply for the sake of conversation.
While this may be inspiring for some, for me it is always frustrating, to only get the nutshell version of people’s experience because of the frenzied pace with which we “catch up” with each other. I find myself longing to go deeper but being tugged along on currents of thought that have more force than they have depth or direction.
My friend and I talked about this, trying to remain objective–not about each other but about everything. It meant letting the air out of our language, removing the usual opinions that add sharp edges and at times narrow the possibilities of a conversation.
We talked about feelings without hiding out–without giving excuses or dismissing ourselves for our reactions to things, no matter how irrational. We discarded the precept that men have that it is weak or weird to talk about how things affect you emotionally.
We each brought up certain moments that had stuck in our minds, and we sat and unravelled experiences in detail. It started to feel as if these were becoming unstuck, as we let each other say how they had affected us.
It’s hard for men of nearly any age to do this without playing down their own feelings with judgmental words, keeping them at bay with a kind of stoicism. The male listener often will even try to “fix” the other’s lot by trying to make them “feel better” (a tactic that often results in the friend feeling like they haven’t been listened to, but that their problem is in need of fixing instead of validation).
My friend and I talked about these things for pretty much the first time and just sat in them for a while. What we found was that this opened a door for a whole new kind of conversation free of falsity or urgency, without cringing or judging, without needless self-deprecating words, without comparing ourselves or resorting to generalizations or some standard of how one “should” be (like “I guess I should just…”).
No “you should’s” or “I should have’s” were used.
At some point, deep feelings arose in me in relation to this or that situation. Instances came to mind from a long time ago where I had felt rejected, alienated, ignored, dismissed and provoked and never realizing why, I noticed I’d held on to those feelings and they had reverberated over time in my interactions with the ones who’d offended me.
I began to physically shake as these things arose one by one, re-experiencing them. At a certain point, I reached a threshold where I had to change the subject just to calm down.
My friend was aware enough to get it, and I sensed it was bringing him down to talk too much about it. He was releasing a lot of things that he had held on to for a while. If we had been less mature, it would have freaked us both out and we would have tried to forget about it.
However, my friend understood in that moment, and didn’t ask why. We just sat with it. He didn’t pretend that my reaction was odd as if to point out my feelings and make me ashamed.
He didn’t over-exert himself making a show of worrying about my feelings (people do this with the aim of distracting or abating the person expressing their feelings while also projecting an image of being a concerned friend or parental figure).
The best way my friend could put it then, this feeling which I recognized as simply being present, was that it felt like being younger, with a brain free from whatever it is that ways us down as we get older.
Certainly any of you who have experienced moments of such intense inspiration that you enter a ‘flow’ state where thoughts seem to be absent from your head and, save for ideas popping up, there is no dialogue happening in your head, just an unending flow of ideas.
Your consciousness which is usually aware and working to protect you by judging things, is magically silenced, at rest, anesthetized by this other force, which is working through you. Surely, we’ve all had those moments. You look up at the sky and you feel timeless, outside of time and completely free.