In the thick of it

Mindfulness only works, when it works



If there is a place where my mindfulness practice does not reliably go—it is into the thick of turmoil and upset in my close relationships. I react, rise to anger, and miscommunicate—more often than not. It has caused some true heartache and I know better. But no matter my practice, a fight crystalizes thought over awareness and winning becomes the motivation instead of listening.


My wife tells me I’m not meditating right. Sometimes, she is right. I don’t catch myself in the moment until way after it is too late—something egregious has been said or done. It’s like falling asleep at the wheel of a car—all of a sudden you snap back, having forgotten a very important time at a very important task. Just like the noticeable crystallization of a thought during meditation, a fight crystallizes thoughts of “I’m right, she’s wrong” and freezes out awareness.


In the rare cases I’ve not taken the bait, I listen and can be more sympathetic, often to the point of being sanctimonious (at least as perceived by the Other), and failing by running into the ditch on the other side of the road. But this seems better, more alert.


As Sam Harris states, “mindfulness meditation only works if it works.” Working requires starting over and committing to a harmonious middle path where nothing is taken for granted and everything, even a fight, is an opportunity for mindfulness and clear seeing.


Making your next fight with your spouse, kids, or coworkers and opportunity to truly listen, go so far as to kindly and even-temperedly ask clarifying questions, try to reduce stress by offering safety valves like—“I appreciate that” or “please help me understand.” Avoid being passive aggressive. Perform your own mental jujitsu that winning is not scoring debate points, but instead being present, listening, and offering stress relief valves.


Make your practice in the thick of it for the well-being of your family and all sentient beings.