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Emma Donaldson-Feilder

15th June 2021

Mindfulness is dependent on awareness, moment by moment; Relational Mindfulness is about taking this mindful awareness into speaking and listening with others. The learning from the workshop was about more than just the cognitive elements: it was also about experiential learning from being fully present in relationship.   Despite the benefits of individual reflection, the real power of mindfulness lies in how it helps us be with others more fully, attentively and compassionately, argued Emma Donaldson-Fielder at the June event of ABP. Just as individual mindfulness has an aspect of bringing non-judgmental awareness to ourselves, so relational mindfulness includes being with others non-judgmentally. In this way we can bring a whole new dimension to coaching and consulting – and to leadership and people management – with potential benefits for wellbeing and resilience.

In our busy lives, we tend not to stop and concentrate on the moment.  One of the most powerful ways to do this is to explore physical sensations, to pause and bring awareness into the moment.    By concentrating on the moment it is possible identify troubling thoughts and allow them to pass.  Emma got us to experiment:

What are our agitated thoughts, our tensions?   Can we cast these aside and just be aware of the moment, touch and sensitivity? Our clothes touching our skin?  Where is the contact?  Can we then relate our internal sensations to our external world?

Start to allow in thoughts from external sources.   Explore the sensations: are the tensions?  Is the moment being crowded out by agitated thoughts?

Allow in visual field, images, colours and shapes.  Awareness of internal and external sensations can enable us reach a state of calm and relaxation, enabling us to share our mindfulness with others.  By opening up ourselves in this way we can find a more non-judgmental approach to sharing our thoughts and concerns.

Emma then explained the difference between individual and relational mindfulness.

  • Individual mindfulness – paying attention to the present moment, non-judgmentally
  • Relational mindfulness – the formal practice aims to allow non-judgmental awareness of self, and non-judgmental dialogue with others while speaking, listening.  This enables us to be mindful in our day to day relationships.

The work of Greg Kramer (2007) revolves around the Buddhist teaching of Insight Dialogue (ID).  Guiding us moment by moment, the approach helps us to meditate in meaningful dialogue with others.   The distinctive element to ID is that it adds a relational dimension to the process of meditation and insight: it involves meditative contemplations in dyads, small groups and large groups of practitioners.

ID has spread around the world in the last 25 years and now has an international community of teachers/facilitators.

The real power of the experience is that we can link our relationships and compassion with wisdom and understanding and with our awareness and curiosity.  We become increasingly able to view our habits, patterns and “Automatic Pilot”, and, crucially this can enable us to move away from “default” to taking control,

It is impossible to list all the potential benefits but Emma’s presentation made us aware of the possibilities and these illustrate some elements of what can be achieved.

  • Awareness: We need to learn to relish joys and be more stable when difficulties are encountered.  We can be more aware of our reactions and make choices about how we response.
  • Habits/patterns: By slowing and bringing greater awareness, we are better able to spot our (helpful and unhelpful) habits and have more conscious choice over how we act.  RM help us to be able to make this choice.
  • New ways of seeing things:  We can develop new insight into what is actually happening to us as we interact with others and this can help to develop wisdom, as well as potentially creating greater psychological safety in our relationships.
  • Understanding ourselves helps us with understanding complexity:  Having clear thoughts and being focused is essential when making hard decisions in complex situations.  Bringing both kindness and wisdom can broaden our “mental bandwidth” leading us to improved decision making.

Exploration of tensions around the body can help us invite a softening of muscles and mindfulness can enable us to allow or even welcome internal sensations and external stimuli.  Relational mindfulness can lead to awareness, kindliness, receptivity and listening resulting in acceptance of each other as we are.

Conclusion

Relational Mindfulness is part of a journey towards greater awareness, kindness and wisdom in the way we conduct ourselves in our relationships.  Real benefits can arise through bringing greater attention to our moment by moment interactions with others, including improved relationships and developing positive habits around how we speak and listen with others.

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