I have been counting blessings recently. I do tend to notice the richness and beauty of everyday life. As my mindfulness practice continuously deepens, my life becomes more textured, rich and satisfying. The possibility of living in this way is invited from the very beginning of the eight-week MBSR course.
In week one, we are invited, with the raisin meditation, to relate to the everyday, we might say mundane aspects of life with an attitude of curiosity. We engage with an ordinary raisin, with all of our senses. We encounter its’ depth and richness, in terms of it’s visual appearance, it’s smell, texture, taste and sound. We become aware that without being present in this particular way, with all of our senses, the richness and texture of the raisin is unavailable to us. If we see the raisin, as ‘just’ a raisin, then that is all it is. However if we can meet the raisin with curiosity, it is revealed in all it’s fullness. This fullness is not limited to the raisin, but points to the latent potential, that we all have, literally embodied, and waiting to be accessed, to perceive the worlds richness, depth and beauty. As Marcel Proust puts it, to see the world with ‘new eyes.’
What might this mean for our relationships? I remember early on, in my explorations of the MBSR curriculum, my long term partner, beseeching me with the words, ‘I am a raisin’. In other words, I was taking him for granted, and not engaging in our relationship with any sense of curiosity. Sound familiar?
So much of our stress and unhappiness is relational. As human beings we are biologically designed to form connections with our fellow beings. There are physical processes and structures within the brain and body, that exist in order to develop and maintain powerful links with others; and not just with those we are close to. This is a survival mechanism.
We are fundamentally relational beings. ‘To be, is to be in relationship.’ Think about it, we exist in a deeply interconnected world. We are born into a family, our development as human beings, who we become, is to some degree determined by the dynamics with our primary care givers and perhaps siblings. We then go to school, college, and it goes on, relationship after relationship. We stumble and grapple and do our best, for better or worse.
Yet it doesn’t need to be this way. We can learn how to be in relationship with awareness. Learning to meditate provides a means for entering into a conscious relationship with oneself, as Plato put it, ‘to know thyself’, but this is not enough. How does this self-knowledge and understanding translate into the way we engage with others? This is of primary importance not only for our own benefit and for that of those close to us, but for our society as a whole, and the creatures and planet that we co-exist with.
In 2006, I encountered a relational meditation practice called Insight Dialogue. It changed my life, and way of relating to myself, to others and to the world at large. I connected with innate relational capacities for connectedness and intimacy that had been lying latent. After a couple of years I was invited by the teacher to engage in a process of retreat teacher training. I have also trained to teach a secular form of the practice, called the Interpersonal Mindfulness course.
The Interpersonal Mindfulness course is an eight week course that has been developed for graduates of Mindfulness eight-week courses. It involves learning and practicing meditative guidelines that support mindfulness in relationship. Gregory Kramer who developed the practice puts it like this:
‘A great deal of our suffering in life is in relationship to other people… We meditate alone, but live our lives with other people… (In meditation) the personal and interpersonal paths are profoundly connected… how easily and even elegantly they can be interwoven.’
This interweaving, of awareness and relationship is profoundly life-enhancing. Our relationships have the potential to be a source of joy and happiness. We can learn how to access our capacity to be fully present in relationship, to listen and feel deeply, to understand our habits, our needs in relationship, to communicate clearly, and ultimately to deepen our capacity for intimacy and connection. This is so fulfilling. One graduate of my Interpersonal mindfulness course, put it this way:
‘The course has shown me new possibilities for interacting with people;how I can access more choice and begin to overcome unhelpful habits to make way for more satisfying and authentic interactions. By giving me a taster of how that feels in a formal setting it’s helped me to orientate myself towards finding more of it in my daily life. At times I felt as though I was experiencing true’ confidence’ for the first time.’
For details of the forthcoming course, click here