Ask any parent of a teenager and they are likely to agree that they often have better conversations with their child sitting next to them while driving a car than across from them at a dinner table. Or how many of us have ever experienced that it's easier to resolve a conflict with our partner when taking a walk together in the woods rather than sitting at home? Why is that?
According to Arawana Hayashi, Shambhala Buddhist teacher and co-founder of the Presencing Institute, "The eyes are the easiest escape from the body". What she is referring to is our body's natural capacity to be mindful of ourselves and aware of others--in other words connected. The problem is that for many of us, we have completely lost touch with the variety of ways in which we can sense and connect with what is going on in the world around us. As a result we rely heavily, and at times exclusively, on visual stimulus to connect. While the visual world is beautiful, many of us use our eyes to project our inner thoughts onto the world that we then end up seeing, rather than seeing the world for what it is and allowing that to shape our reflections about it.
The above examples represent situations where other forms of communicating actually allow us a deeper and more meaningful way to relate to and understand another person. These are situations in which side-body and back-body "listening" take priority over exclusively listening through our eyes and ears. In a way, it's almost as if changing our orientation from both facing each other to both facing forward opens a deeper listening capacity within. There is something profoundly basic and beautiful about two people side by side both sharing a common forward view whether sitting in a car, walking amongst nature or staring out at an ocean view. This shared experience has the capacity to unlock additional sensory "antennas" that we can use to actually feel another person during conversation.
But what does that mean to feel another person without physically touching them? Take a moment to reflect on the last time that you felt that someone was standing behind you before you could actually see them, or when you felt a warm rush in your heart while listening to a friends story, or had a strong sense in your gut that someone wasn't telling you the truth: these are some of the ways in which our bodies use felt sense to speak to us. For the most part however, we have completely blocked our body's attempt to communicate with us in all instances except for when we are feeling ill. When sick we become hyper-sensitive to our body's needs and how we are feeling. Yet outside of this situation so much of our communication is interpreted and influenced through thoughts from our mind. And while there is value to the information registered through our brains, there is also a world of body intelligence that many of us are completely ignoring.
For those interested in reconnecting to their bodies there is a golden "trick" that allows us to rapidly jump from being consumed by our mental chatter to beginning to feel our body's natural sensing: silence. Silence, through meditation or even simply between two people during a conversation, has an amazing power to bring to surface all the somatic feelings that we otherwise miss while remaining attune only to our heads. Although initially silence may make us uncomfortable and provoke even more thoughts, with a bit of practice the conscious use of silence can allow us to let our thoughts go and bring our attention to our feelings. Suddenly we notice different parts of our bodies speaking to us through gentle movements, new sensations and even uncomfortable reactions. If after some silence we then consciously speak and listen from our heart and gut, rather than from our minds, we may find ourselves connecting in ways more meaningful and authentic than we usually do.
Remember, in the end it's not about one over the other, but rather honoring the beautiful communication between mind and body that we all have the natural capacity to experience.