What am I saying, and why?
My favorite chapter in the book Running With The Mind Of Meditation is “Motivation”. Sakyong Mipham reminds us that mindfulness is neutral. Like having strong muscles, it gives us the power to stick with our intentions. So it’s important to be clear what our intentions are.
How do we investigate the motivations that drive our relationships and conversations? I find it helpful to compare red zone communication patterns, which are motivated by ‘me-first’ ( feeling disconnected) to green zone patterns, motivated by ‘we-first’ (staying connected).
Red Zone: me-first motivation: The motivation behind red-zone communication is to defend the fortress of ‘me’ against hunger or attack. There are two styles of red zone communication: mindless-heart and heartless-mind. The first is motivated by wishful thinking, or hunger, the second by fearful rejection, or attack. Here are four examples: wishing for pleasure and fearing pain; wishing for praise and fearing criticism; wishing for fame and fearing ridicule; wishing to win and fearing loss. What makes these motivations mindless? Because they are ‘me-first’ survival strategies that ignore the openness of the present moment. A ‘me-first’ preoccupation blocks curiosity about other people who share that moment with us.
Green Zone: we-first motivation: Genuine communication is defined by the intention to be both friendly to ourselves and respectful, curious and empathic to others. Our motivation is to be like a bridge that links two sides. The power of mindfulness reminds us of this intention throughout the day by asking ‘what exactly do I want right now? What am I saying, and why?’
When I do this, I often realize that I’ve been tricked again by red-zone habits, such as trying to win approval and avoid being criticized. But this moment of wakefulness is an important turning point. Now my inner conversations come to light. Remembering the intention to be friendly to myself, I can greet my insight with gentleness or I can punish my insight with self-criticism. Mindlessly, it’s easy to slip back and become my own worst enemy. Going in that direction, I’m again on the hamster wheel of seeking approval from outside sources, heading in the wrong direction.
The intention to be friendly to ourselves sounds easy, but it motivates us to train in waking up, asking ourselves what we’re doing and why and then being prepared to surround that wakefulness with kindness. Relating to ourselves this way enables us to expand our focus to include other people. Mindful communication is a life-long path that requires patience, gentleness and motivation. Like a marathon runner, it helps to train every day.