Our minds crave novelty, connection and meaning and our everyday life can feel dull when nothing "pops out" at us. Mindfulness is a habit of noticing, without being carried away by our internal dialogue. It can highlight the wonders that surround us everyday. Rather than sitting in meditation alone, try the tips at the end of this article for creating a mindful interaction with another person. You may find yourself transforming your everyday life from boring to memorable.
Here's an example of a mindful interaction from an "uneventful" airplane trip:
I'm somewhere over the Atlantic, just east of Greenland, according to the flight tracker on my screen. It's still night outside, but the darkness won't last much longer as we make our way to London. I'm seated next to a balding man in his golden years. We're both sore from our coach seats, but grateful the one between us is empty. We've said little more than "Hello" to each other in the past several hours. At some point he offered me a piece of Doublemint gum; I declined without removing my headphones. "How rude of me to not remove my ear buds," I thought moments afterward.
He notices my copy of Scientific American Mind sitting on the middle seat and his face suggests interest. I remove my headphones briefly. "You can read it, if you like," I tell him. He flips to the cover article about solving problems through dreams. He's midway through the next article when dinner arrives. "What did you think of that article?" I ask him.
"You know, that happened to me once while I was in college. I solved a problem in my dream. I thought maybe I was imagining it, but here it says you can train your mind to help you solve problems." I love conversations like this. I ask him about his education. He's vague, but I recognize his veiled response. Like me, he's a doctor; the universe is constantly bumping me into other doctors. Like undercover agents working from different agencies I reveal my identity first. "I'm a naturopathic physician," I tell him. Like many folks, he expresses vague familiarity. I tell him my passion is mindbody medicine; I help people access the wealth of their minds. He perks up a bit. He tells me he's a retired oncologist. He's traveling to London to visit his grandchildren. A slight expression of soreness melts from his face as he contemplates this thought.
"You know, this always happens to me. I'm on a flight, seated next to someone and we don't talk until one or two hours before we land," he says to me.
"I know what you mean," I reply. I wonder where else this theme comes up for the two of us. How often do we get lost trying to make ourselves comfortable, completely ignoring a chance at genuine human interaction?
I open the shade of our window. The sun is rising, it's breathtaking. My new friend and I are in and out of conversations: the power of the mind in healing; families and love; the places we've traveled; lessons we've learned. Listening to his story, and sharing mine, I notice my mindless internal chatter fading into the periphery. I notice contemplative silences. I'm marveling out the window, noticing.
Here are a some tips to help you create mindful interactions and transform ordinary into something worth remembering:
1. Connect to compassion: Remember everyone desires the same things -- to be happy, and to be free from fear and suffering. No matter our specific circumstances we all experience pain, joy, isolation and connectivity. Feel this in your chest, close your eyes briefly to see if it helps you connect.
2. Be curious: Whether you've known someone for years or you just happen to be standing next to each other in line at the DMV, ask yourself "What interests me about this person?" Ask questions that encourage a story or explanation. Try not to get caught in your internal chatter, when you notice it, gently refocus your attention on listening or sharing.
3. Share yourself: We must invest before we will experience a return. Offer what you can comfortably part with, whether it be a gesture of courtesy, a story or something material. You are likely to change someone's day from a simple act or words you say.
4. Understand: Occasionally you may be met with hostility or a response that seems inappropriate. It's important remind yourself that you have no responsibility for someone's reaction to you. You are only in control of how you react to them. In this event, it is often helpful to reconnect to a feeling of compassion.
5. Reflect: When your interaction has ended and you have a moment to yourself, ask "what did I learn from this?" "What were the themes?" "What were the lessons?" Your interpretation will likely provide insight of how you are being in the world at the moment.