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Mindful Communication 1

An interview with Greg Heffron about an upcoming program at Karmê Chöling

by Mike de Give

KCL: Hi Greg. You are a senior instructor at the Green Zone Institute, which aims to bring mindfulness to communication. And the founder of Green Zone is Acharya Susan Gillis Chapman, who wrote a book about all this. Is that right?

Greg Heffron: That’s correct. “The Five Keys to Mindful Communication.”

KCL: And you are going to be doing a program here at Karmê Chöling Oct. 26 – Nov. 1. What’s that about?

Greg: This is going to be a five-day deep-retreat in mindful communication, which is this unique material that comes out of contemplative psychology and the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, as well as other wisdom traditions. It puts together a set of models and protocols, ways to understand communication from a mindfulness perspective so that we are essentially using our in-built mechanisms as human beings to understand communication.

KCL: When you say it that way, that we have innate abilities to communicate civilly, it reminds me of basic goodness. We have what we need and we can draw upon that. We don’t have to really learn some new method.

Greg: Yeah. I would say absolutely like the teachings within the Shambhala Buddhist tradition about basic goodness. The idea is that we pile confusion on top of innate faculties that are already decent and trustworthy and reliable. But we kind of doubt that. We doubt our fundamental goodness. Like the fundamental goodness of our ability to feel, let’s say, sad.

Communication happens and we get disappointed. Somebody says something that we really didn’t want them to say, and we feel disappointed. We feel cut off. We feel sad. That can just be an utterly true moment. Piercingly true. And that kind of piercing truth of the moment, of feeling that disconnection and that cut-offness, is not fundamentally a problem at all. The problem comes when we react in ways that try to suppress our experience.

So, we might try to suppress that sadness by going into an elaborate rationale about why this person is subhuman, or why they have failed us, or how they should have been better. And that’s never going to end well. Because we’re not going in a direction that’s true. We’re going away from what’s true.

KCL: Can you describe ways that communication can go wrong? How we might recognize when that is happening?’

Greg: It comes back to this sense of doubting the decency and goodness of the situation. That we tend to shut down into fixed patterns. What Susan Gillis Chapman calls “toxic certainties.” These are prefabricated ideas that we carry around with us that we use as a kind of protection, a shield, against reality as it’s actually unfolding. This is not real protection. It doesn’t actually really protect us. These are kind of fixed thought patterns, ideologies, and they can take a variety of forms. For those who are familiar with the Five Buddha Family teachings, they’ll recognize some of these patterns. But they could take the form of extreme judgment. They could take the form of desperate longing for this person to love us. They could take the form of arrogance. They could take the form of mindless competition. Or they could take the form of, you know, ‘this person is not worth my time, I’m tuning them out.’

KCL: It sounds like all of these things that you just described are a retreat into the cocoon as they describe it in …

Greg: … “Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior.” Yes, absolutely. The cocoon, that’s it. The cocoon is in a way those fixed thoughts. Again, if they actually protected us maybe they would be worthwhile. But they really don’t, because part of what they do — and this is really the deeper truth of this material — part of what they do is disconnect us from the person that we’re facing. We are no longer in real contact with what they are really saying and doing, how they’re acting. We have injected ourself with a kind of anesthesia of these ideologies, these thoughts we have, and we’re paying attention to the thoughts — we’re no longer paying attention to the person. So the irony is that it makes us less protected. If we really want to be protected, we better pay attention.

KCL: OK.

Greg: Because, you know, there’s feedback we’re getting that we may need to pay attention to.

KCL: I guess it’s easier to win an argument with your projection of somebody than the actual person.

Greg: Yes, very true. And then you think you’ve won, and you feel protected, but later you can get blindsided because you weren’t paying attention.

KCL: What does a good communication look and feel like?

Greg: That itself is a beautiful, open question, actually. That’s the question we want our mindful communication practitioners to keep asking themselves. `What does it feel like when I’m open?’ And feeling open with somebody is something that we all know. We’ve all had that experience, even, honestly, if it’s just with our schnauzer puppy, right? We know that sense of being unguarded and authentic. And it feels so good, actually. We all crave that kind of connection. And it’s a living connection. It’s not a connection where we say, ‘Oh, isn’t this wonderful,’ and we go off in our mind thinking about how wonderful it is. It’s a living connection that happens moment by moment, in the present. That’s the mindfulness aspect.

Actually, part of what we love about being open is that it automatically tends to make us feel more mindful. And mindfulness actually feels real and authentic and genuine. So that’s it.


Editor’s note: Part two of this interview will appear on the front page of the Shambhala Times two days from now, so stay tuned!

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1 response to “ Mindful Communication 1 ”
  1. marguerite
    Jul 20, 2018
    Reply

    too hot to post Shambhala promos just now, but this article is great


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