Steps to Strong and Meaningful Relationships

By Carol Hendershot

“Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” David Oxbury Augsberg

We all want friends we can count on and partners that know us well and love us anyway. We want to be with someone who will listen to us with respect and be there for us when we fail. And we want our friends and lovers to be able to count on us and know that we are there for them when they need us.  

The challenge is that these kinds of relationships take time and intention. To be fully available to the people in our lives, we have to override some well-worn tendencies and our own hardwiring.

Fully present is not our natural state.

Because we are hardwired to survive, solve problems, and prepare for the worst possible scenario, it leaves little bandwidth to be fully present with the people we love. 

One study determined that our bodies move on auto-pilot almost half the time, while our minds get lost in contemplating the latest hurt or the most unlikely future calamities. Mark Twain once said, “I have been through many catastrophes in my life, most of which never happened.”

Our society is becoming busier and busier, and we are encouraged to multitask in order to meet the constantly increasing demands on our time. This is happening even as science is proving that multitasking produces 50% more errors and can make us 50% less productive. 

The culture of “continuous partial attention” we live in doesn’t support the kind of dedicated presence that builds relationships of connection and trust. So, how do we overcome these formidable obstacles and ingrained natural tendencies?

How do we develop the skills to build deep and lasting friendships and intimate relationships?

One answer is to train our minds to be more available through mindfulness. When we talk about training in mindful awareness, we often say that there are two kinds of mindfulness: Big M – Mindfulness and little m – mindfulness. 

Big M – Mindfulness is our intention; the reason we are practicing. It is about bringing a quality of presence to our lives; to be fully there for a vibrant sunset, our baby’s first steps, a friend’s struggles, or the intimacy we can only achieve by being fully with our partner. But this takes time, work, and a deep dedication to our lives and to the people we share it with.

Little m – mindfulness, on the other hand, is the things we do in the background to make our intention a reality. It is work; the hours of practice we put in before an important speech, a golf tournament, or the many repetitions of our piano solo so that our fingers glide effortlessly over the keys at the concert. 

Little m – mindfulness is our daily practice. It is sitting down each morning or evening to pay full attention to this moment, to feel the breath, and to bring our attention back to the present moment whenever we get lost in the past or future. It is our commitment to actually pay attention when we brush our teeth as a training ground to be present in the most mundane of circumstances. 

When we sit in silent meditation, we are investing in self-intimacy. 

We are learning to listen deeply to our bodies, minds, and hearts, and we are reclaiming our first and most lasting relationship: the one we have with ourselves. By caring for ourselves in this way, we are also learning to listen deeply to those closest to us. 

The investment we make learning to be mindful in our relationships is hard but rewarding work.

Our personal meditation practice can only go so far. To truly learn to inhabit our relationships with this kind of presence, we need to practice bringing this quality of awareness to our everyday interactions.

When we do this, we can watch our relationships blossom with new vitality. As we support our loved ones, we feel supported. Casual conversations turn into deep connections, and intimacy grows and enriches our lives.

Take some time today to listen deeply to someone close to you!

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