Busy lives, stressful jobs and constant connectivity means more and more of us are suffering from a sense of overwhelm and burnout. Mindfulness, and in particular meditation, have long been considered a good antidote to the negative effects of modern life: but how can we use the principles of mindfulness to improve the way we relate and communicate with the people around us?
We caught up with Congress London members and mindfulness experts Fiorenza Rossini and Louise Jones who hosted their first drop event for Congress this summer - a practical session which gave us the experience of a guided meditation and a ‘mindful’ conversation.
Q: how did you discover mindfulness?
Fiorenza: I moved to London nine years ago. I was raised in Paris by Italian/French parents and my professional background is in investment banking. It sounds cheesy, but about five years ago I found myself soul-searching and went on a journey to discover a way of creating more meaning in my work life. Progressively things started to shift; I began a professional coaching practice and integrated mindfulness into this. For me, mindfulness was always a tool to manage stress and feel calmer. I’ve now been meditating fairly consistently four times a week for about four years.
Louise: I currently work in HR for a tech company where I get to help people every day. Mindfulness came to me as part of my psychology degree. In the final year of the course we covered the concept of positive psychology. I didn’t reconnect with mindfulness until after university. I started working and went through a period of feeling depressed - at the time mindfulness really supported me to come out of that and keep going. To solidify my knowledge, I decided to study mindfulness at Exeter University.
Q: how would you describe mindfulness?
Fiorenza: Many people associate mindfulness with meditation, which is true to a certain degree. Meditation is a way of practising mindfulness but it’s much more than that. I would describe mindfulness as a way of living, thinking and being. It’s about being present in the moment and rediscovering life without the ‘autopilot’. For example, we’ve all had that moment where we’ve left home and gone to the shops, and have no memory of how we got there - this is an example of when we are operating on ‘autopilot’. According to Harvard research, the average person is living on autopilot 47% of the time. With our mind wandering so much, it’s easy to understand why we might feel unfulfilled, purposeless, or stressed.
Mindfulness is really the opposite of living on autopilot. Using mindfulness techniques is about living in the present and noticing what is going on for you - the physical sensations, thoughts and emotions - noticing them but resisting the urge to label them, or say whether they are good or bad or put them in a box. Yes it’s a quiet practice but it is still a very thoughtful practice. You can change the way you go through life or perceive life, and that can have a huge, positive impact.
Q: how can we use mindfulness to impact how we communicate?
Louise: Research shows that bringing mindfulness into speaking and listening can resolve and avoid conflict and improve supportive conversations - it also has a link with improving empathy. If we all practice these techniques, we could get to a place at work or with our colleagues or partners where we are communicating in a way that is mindful. Specifically mindfulness communication can relate to listening, because that’s part of any conversation. What this means is having your full attention on the person who is speaking - really listening to what is happening and what they are saying, not letting your mind wander and attending to that moment non-judgmentally and with compassion, giving the other person the space to communicate what they need to. It involves setting aside our natural impulse and reactions to respond or judge which we have when we listen.
In Buddhism there is a phrase or concept called ‘wise speak’ - which means speaking in a way which reflects truth, kindness, usefulness, and speaking at the right time and with mutual understanding. It’s about making sure that whatever you say, you are speaking words that are true - not exaggerating or telling white lies - as mindfulness is a way of acknowledging what’s happening now. In a practical sense, it’s listening without giving advice or wanting to jump in and respond. It also helps to mirror or repeat back what you’ve heard. Mindful speaking involves checking in with yourself before you speak - checking if your spoken word is charged with what you’ve brought into the room with you. Another way of approaching mindful conversations, is setting an intention around how you are going to speak today. Are you going to speak with kindness, or be more concise or embody mindful aspects, for example.
Q: how can we start to practice mindfulness?
Fiorenza: It can be as simple as dropping into what’s happening inside yourself right now. Check in with yourself in this moment and have a sense of what’s going on inside. Or, when you leave the room you are currently in, look around you and consider what you notice without attaching a label to it or judging it.
Fiorenza Rossini is a professional coach and mindfulness teacher. She is also the founder of Generation Mindful® Contact Fiorenza for help on your mindfulness journey or to bring mindfulness into your workplace: firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with Fiorenza on LinkedIn or follow her on Instagram: fiorenza_rossini