The Importance of StoryTeller Mind

The Importance of Storyteller Mind

It is not helpful (at least for psychotherapeutic purposes) to simply dismiss ideas, thoughts, and stories in the mind because they are fundamentally “empty” of substance.  Self-reflection about the content of our narratives helps us to achieve deeper contact with what is true for us personally and  anchor our experience, thoughts, and beliefs in our own wisdom.

Narratives encode subjective experience and create meaning in the psyche.  They reveal the way we see ourselves and others.  They make sense of what has happened to us in the past and create a blueprint in the mind for what we can expect in the future.  In this way, they create the structure we live by.  

Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories.

We are made of stories!

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The Relational Moment

The “relational moment” can be defined as the felt sense of being-with a particular someone on a particular occasion. The ability to be-with is an inborn mammalian capacity for relational connection. (Every pet owner can attest to this). There is a layer of non-verbal relational knowing which exists prior to and underneath our higher mental capacities. It is this innate capacity that allows us to know what is happening when we walk into a room and get the vibe of the situation.

A special set of relational moments or “moments of meeting” are those in which there is a profound sense of mutual connection. Such moments of meeting occur in conversation when something is said and received in such a way that the speaker feels deeply seen, felt, accepted, and understood. The prototype of this experience is the moment that occurs immediately after birth, when a new baby looks into the eyes of a mother who is looking back. Such moments of mutual deep contact are what the philosopher Martin Buber understood to be the essential meeting of “I-and-Thou.”

Moments of meeting vary in level of depth. The shared relational and mindful moment feels replete with Presence. Along with the felt sense of connection or intimacy – being-with – there is a deep sense of being oneself. Connection may be so profound that the boundary between self and other momentarily disappears. Wisdom arises in such moments as the compassionate and intuitive knowing of the other’s experience, and sometimes as the experience of a heart-to-heart connection between us.

Schuman, M. (2017) Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis: INQUIRING DEEPLY. Routledge Press, New York

Inquiring Deeply Newsletter, December 2018

Mindfulness of Conversation: The Dance of Speaking and Listening

Since we spend a large part of our lives talking to people, engaging in conversation can itself be a dynamic and fully engaged mindfulness practice.  Just as we can explore the internal world of the body and thoughts in sitting practice, we can explore the external world of language in vocalized words, gestures and spoken interaction.   This focus of attention helps open the senses, heart, and mind to receive the present moment more fully. 

Mindfulness of conversation begins with the embodied experience of speaking and listening. However, far more than simply denuded  ‘present moments’ of mindful awareness, there are many other layers of the experience of conversation that reflect what is happening in the ‘relational moment’.  Some of the layers have to do with what is being conveyed— communication— and others with the how— the connection between us conversation.    In the framework of Buddhist meditation practice, all of this falls under the heading of relational mindfulness.  

The experience of conversation provides a window into the relational moment, a stage for observing the theater of the mind.   Mindfulness of conversation allows us an up-close and personal experience of basic psychological phenomena and relationship patterns enacted in real time.   We can observe how we show up in the relational world and we can discover a great deal about who we take ourselves to be.  We can investigate what we enact with others (and what they enact with us);  we can inquire into the psychological sources of those relational patterns; and we can reflect on the narratives we use to frame our experience.  In all of these ways, we can gain understanding of our relational dynamics:  our interpersonal reactions and their emotional roots*.   

Each of these dimensions provides a variety of opportunities to observe how we relate to others in the dance of conversation.  We can observe what happens at the intersubjective intersection:  the intimacy or distance we experience moment by moment; our comfort or discomfort; whether we lead or follow;  the energy, tempo, and flow of what we say.

In addition to the interpersonal domain, we can mindfully observe the conversation that takes place within our minds.  Inner speech may manifest in words or phrases that catch our attention; at other times, it can be elaborated into ideas we want to express.   We may notice replays of actual conversations we have had with others.   Our minds may host soliloquies or arguments, or fantasize entire interactions.     These narrative themes shed a lot of light on our actual interactions with others.  

To summarize, there are at least three interwoven strands in mindfulness of conversation: communication with others, our inner narratives,  and the felt sense of our symbolized experience.     Through mindfulness of conversation we can discover many different voices, many different layers of knowing and cognizing within.   There is value in becoming aware of the entire process. 

Most importantly, mindful attention to the process of communication entails potential for change in both participants.  This is especially true because communication reflects the underlying stories we tell ourselves (consciously or unconsciously) about self and other.  It provides an opportunity to observe both our biases and our intentions.  And, it creates an opening to practice the Buddhist principles of wise speech.

 One of the most exciting aspects of the dance of speaking and listening is the realization that communication is a generative act;  no one knows in advance what will transpire.  It is as much (or more) an event that happens to us as it is something we ‘do’.  Conversation invites something to “emerge” between ourselves and another.   This potential is what the writer Ursula Le Guin “the calls beauty and terror of conversation, that ancient and abiding human gift.”   


A longer version of this essay appears in Wise Brain Bulletin,            vol. 12.5:     “Speaking and Listening:  The Intimate Dance of Communication”.                                      


** Schuman, M.  (2018) Mindfulness-Informed Relational Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis:  INQUIRING DEEPLY

Picture credit  Edgar Degas,  The Conversation.