Mindful Relationships: Creating Genuine Connection with Ourselves and Others
Mindfulness lives in both our relationship with ourselves and the relationship we create with the world around us. A mindful relationship with ourselves embodies true intimacy, the kind that allows and accepts all parts of ourselves, even the less desirable ones. From there, intimacy ripples out to our partners, children, loved ones, work colleagues, and the world as a whole.
Mindfulness is both an “everyday experience,” that is simple but also profound. First though, we need to recognise our “default mode,” which is often a state of distraction, both in the past and the future.
When we use mindfulness throughout our lives, we gain a host of neural benefits. Mindfulness is important for our brain health, it not only strengthens executive functions, but also reduces “amygdala hijack” and lowers cortisol. Of particular interest is the way in which mindfulness activates our “tend and befriend” circuits, which build our capacities for empathy and compassion for those around us. Throughout the book we offer many useful mindfulness exercises, such as grounding and soothing ourselves and performing a loving-kindness meditation.
In learning how to meditate we suggest that you treat meditation as an experiment, understanding that you can design the best practice to suit your life. Most importantly, the focus is on tuning in and not tuning out. “Many people were originally globally positive about mindfulness and talked about it as if it were some kind of magic potion or panacea, but now (thankfully) the research is becoming more nuanced and people are acknowledging that what we experience when we tune in and get present is not always positive.”
Understanding that stress has more to do with what we are experiencing than with the external situation itself, and that suffering can be expressed as discomfort multiplied by our resistance, helps us not to feed resistance, but rather to simply notice the effect it has on our lives. As emotions such as anger often reflect unmet needs, we can also learn to pause and recognize these needs.
“Intimacy is the ability to be in touch with our inner experiences — both ours and others.” Mindful Relationships helps us recognize that the way we relate to ourselves is the way we relate to others. By learning to be kinder to ourselves, we learn to be kinder to others. But improving our intimate relationships also means noticing and responding to, our partner’s bids for contact, taking responsibility for our own emotions, becoming aware of our projections, and employing empathy. We show how to improve our ability to tolerate and welcome our vulnerability as well as create healthy boundaries that help us prevent feeling overwhelmed and flooded by others’ emotions. The book is filled with tips, exercises and practical suggestions to learn the skills of mindful relationships. When things go wrong, we offer several useful tips, such as how to repair, take space, use a differentiated stance, fight fair, and seek help.
Mindfulness also has a profound effect on how we parent our children. As we learn to re-parent ourselves, we will learn to tolerate our children’s distress and avoid attempts to distract them from it. The extent to which parents can manage their own feelings of loss will determine how much they can tolerate and accept the feelings of loss in their children.
Packed with several easy-to-do and useful exercises, tips on meditation and common sense wisdom, Mindful Relationships is a practical guide to developing a culture of awareness that will not only help us handle difficult emotions, but also help us take responsibility for our own actions, make better decisions, develop and enhance intimacy, tolerate failures, and cultivate a growth mindset — all invaluable skills that improve our lives and the lives of those around us. Ultimately, we can make a real difference, a difference that our world is hungry for.
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About the Authors:
Margie Ulbrick is a relationship counsellor, psychotherapist and writer, who makes extensive use of mindfulness skills in her work with couples, individuals and families.
Dr Richard Chambers is a clinical psychologist in private practice and an internationally recognized expert in mindfulness. He consults to a growing number of educational institutions, businesses and organizations, is a developer of the Smiling Mind app, and co-author of Mindful Learning.
The authors are Melbourne based and available for interview now.