Cultivating Mindfulness in Relationship | Daily News


Cultivating Mindfulness in Relationship


Humans are inherently relational beings; human interactions carry enormous power to hurt or to heal. Even in therapy-that is, in relationships guided by finely honed methods intended specifically to foster healing-the outcome has been shown to depend mostly upon the character and quality of the therapist–client relationship.

Yet the disciplines that train therapists-medicine, psychology, social work-have generally succeeded better at teaching theories, concepts, and techniques of therapy than at fostering the quality of therapeutic relationship. To borrow Nasrudin’s famous parable, this situation is reminiscent of looking for one’s lost keys where the light is good, rather than looking for them in the place where one dropped them.

That is, we continue refining the elements we know how to refine, even though they don’t show the highest correlation with outcomes, while we give less attention to the element that most influences outcome, the therapeutic relationship itself-perhaps because we haven’t quite seen how to address it.

Present moment

The meditative practices that are roughly grouped under the heading of mindfulness are able to address this training gap in important ways. That is the thesis of this book, and we heartily agree. Teaching therapists and therapist trainees such forms of meditation is almost guaranteed to help them become more self-aware, more accepting and reflective, more available to the client in the present moment, and more able to choose their responses skillfully.

Nevertheless, while basic mindfulness meditation is able to improve the quality of the therapist–client relationship, it has a limitation parallel to that of the academic helping disciplines. Traditional meditation techniques like those discussed by Steven Hick in Chapter 1 of his volume have sought to develop mindfulness either in solitary formal meditation or in informal situations that are not interpersonal.

Examples of formal (or “extraordinary”) meditation are meditating alone at a set-aside time or meditating on retreat in a room full of others with whom one carefully avoids interaction. Remembering to be mindful while dressing or brushing one’s teeth is an example of informal (or “ordinary”) meditation, as is the use of some stimulus in the environment, like red traffic lights or the sound of a passing train, to recall one to inner recollection. Most approaches to meditation stay within these nonrelational options. Moreover, traditional individual meditation can sometimes reify the sense of an isolated and autonomous self, though this is not its intention.

When this happens, it is difficult to connect meditation to everyday life or to therapeutic practice. Searching in solitude for the key to the demands of a particularly challenging type of relationship bears some resemblance to Nasrudin’s quandary. It relies on the premise that new habits and responses developed in private meditation will reappear spontaneously in the heat of interactions with other people. This transfer works well enough that solitary meditation has unmistakable benefits for human interactions. But as social beings, humans find interactions with each other uniquely distracting-and uniquely challenging. While most can develop some measure of tranquility, mindfulness, and compassion in solitude, transferring these gains into the give-and-take of real-time human interactions is a second, largely unsupported, challenge.

Dialogic meditation

Because Insight Dialogue (ID) is a formal practice of dialogic meditation, it supports this challenge directly. Based in vipassana or insight meditation practices, ID is revolutionary in that it breaks the paradigm of individual, private meditation by cultivating mindfulness while in relationship. Engaging in disciplined, mindful dialogue with one or more other people is the form of this meditation practice-just as sitting or

Cultivating Mindfulness in Relationship walking, attending to the breath or to the body, are the forms of other practices. In interpersonal meditation we are able to observe our relational hungers (cravings) in real time. We are able to see how suffering arises with those hungers. We learn to support each other, and to be supported, in releasing those hungers.

The benefits of interpersonal meditation transfer easily into everyday life with others. The stimuli offered by everyday interactions are not so different from the stimuli that have been worked with in meditative practice. New skills and habits learned in meditative practice are already adapted to the challenges of relationship. Because of these differences, ID can foster changes in the quality of relationships-including the therapeutic relationship-much more directly than solitary approaches to the cultivation of mindfulness.

The first section of this chapter describes in some detail what ID looks like and how it works. ID exists in a number of forms—retreat practice, weekly groups, online dialogue (both real-time and asynchronous), and in an important offshoot, the Interpersonal Mindfulness Program (IMP). This program, modeled loosely on the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR), presents the basics of ID in a structured course designed to be accessible to people with no background or interest in the Buddhist roots of ID. Although the IMP presents the same ID practice, its history and norms have developed differently.

Therapeutic relationship

After considering the nature of the practice, we will examine how specific orientations and qualities needed in the therapeutic relationship are fostered in ID. As we shall see, the guidelines and contemplations of ID support greater therapist self-awareness and acceptance of dysphoric experience, greater presence to and acceptance of the client, and provide concrete practice in exploring the present moment, with respect and curiosity, with another person. 

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