Mindful engagement

One of the things I find really difficult to do is to cultivate what I can only call ‘mindful engagement’, i.e. to be mindful when speaking, listening and participating in any kind of interaction. I find it ‘easier’ — if there can be such a thing — to be mindful when alone, e.g when sitting on my cushion, when doing the dishes and so on. Though it’s hard work, you are set up by the conditions of the act and its purpose, as well as your solitude.

But how that awareness carries over into occasions like meetings, conferences and conversations, I still haven’t worked out. I am still finding myself coming away from conversations thinking, ‘Why wasn’t I more aware of how carried away I was getting?’ At meetings, when people are yelling at each other across the table and not really listening to what the other is saying, all I tend to do is get frustrated, or exasperated, and then totally drained when it’s over. I am going to try and remember to watch my breath the next time and see if that helps. I think I’ll try it tomorrow. It will be the second day of a two-day conference I’m attending.

Conferences are slightly surreal things. It crams too much information and too many egos into too small a space into too compressed a span of time. The result is a kind of staking out of intellectual territory, providing a public arena for political and personality frictions that would otherwise remain dormant or hidden. And the teeth-gritting goodwill and handshakes — I hate this word, ‘networking’ — during the coffee breaks, are just excruciating. I always come home with a headache. As I am typing this, I’m thinking, ‘But maybe the teeth-gritting is coming from me…’ Here I am grumbling about hypocrisy, but what’s really happening is I’m resenting having to be there. Not at the conference per se; I rather like the topics and discussions, but at the circumstances under which they have to be conducted. I’m dismayed at the amount of smarmy self-promotion that goes on at these things, and then feel bad about thinking it.

I think I’m going to try and acknowledge the smarminess tomorrow without taking it personally. It doesn’t work if I pretend they’re angels and I’m the devil for thinking the worst of them. I’m going to try and listen without judgement, and remember to watch my breath. I wonder if that’ll change my perception of things? Watch this space.


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