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Dialogue as a Mindfulness Practice

sometimes mindfulness practice is french fries

Some Days, You Just Need French Fries

About 15 years ago, I was picking up my youngest daughter from the Montessori School; she was three years old.  As she climbed into the back of the car, and I was strapping her into the toddler seat, I could sense that she was upset.  I asked her about her day to which she responded, “Mommy, can we please stop on the way home and get some French fries?”  I asked her if that was something that would help her to feel better and she said, “Yes; because Mommy…some days, you just need French fries.”

Well I couldn’t argue with that!

On the way to the local fast food restaurant, my daughter told me the story of her day – how she was playing in the doll house and some boys came over and kicked her out.  She was deeply saddened by this, because she could not understand why she and these three boys couldn’t just play together.  She felt unacknowledged; she felt alone.

At the same time, with brilliance unlike most adults, in that moment, she knew exactly what she needed to help her to feel better.  And as I write this, I can “hear” it already – the counter points — French fries today…something “worse” tomorrow.
Perhaps it was not the wisest parental choice to purchase French fries for a sad little girl; yet I was coming at this from a different angle.

I say my child was brilliant – not only because I am her mother – but because in her own way, my daughter was mindful of what she needed in that moment without any judgment.  She knew what she needed.  She paid attention to how she was feeling – what was going on inside – mindful that she wanted to feel different.  And a high caloric food such as sliced potatoes drowned in vegetable oil could help.

∞ ∞ ∞

I have a theory about the human condition.  At the end of the day – conscious or not – all any one person wants is to feel acknowledged.  We are innately gregarious with a desire to be part of the tribe.  And when we perceive that we’ve been left out; it hurts.

In this connection, when we do not feel acknowledged, we take action to get attention, regardless of whether those actions are healthy or unhealthy.  We interrupt.  Or shut down.  We befriend a stranger.  Or move away from a relationship.  We revolutionize.  Or start a war.  

And whether you have a feeling of acknowledgment or not; in any given situation, why does anyone do what he or she does?
My hypothesis is that we do what we do for one reason and one reason only — to feel better.  

When you buy a birthday present for someone you love, you feel good.  When you donate a few dollars to the charity of your choice, you feel helpful.  When you complete a tedious project for your boss, you feel skillful.  When you receive a promotion over another, you feel unique.  When you win the football game with one minute to spare, you feel superior.  And when you criticize another, you feel dominant.  

∞ ∞ ∞

Mindfulness Practice is a useful tool to better understand who we are and from where our thoughts and therefore our actions are coming.  John Kabat-Zinn perhaps is the most notorious for introducing the concept of mindfulness into the world.  His definition: “Paying attention in a particular way.  On purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”  

Expanding on this concept, I have come to understand mindfulness as the gentle effort to be continuously present with your experience and what that experience brings – emotionally, intellectually, psychically and spiritually.  It is a mental state achieved by observing and focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.  In short, to be mindful means that you are in a state of active mental attention achieved by paying complete or whole attention to the present moment with a non-judgmental awareness of both inner and outer experiences.

Many of you know the benefits of mindfulness meditation:

  • Stress reduction
  • Improved attention
  • Better memory
  • Increased creativity
  • Abundant feelings of compassion

And scientific research as recent as this year has shown how meditation can change the way our brains function:

  • Strengthened connections between brain cells due to “higher levels of gyrification which is linked to processing information, making decisions, forming memories, and improving attention”.
  • Cortical thickness, which can result in decreased sensitivity to pain.
  • “Increased gray matter density in the brain stem” which is linked to certain benefits such as “improved cognitive, emotional, and immune responses”.
  • Dramatic changes in electrical brain activity – “namely increased Alpha and Theta EEG activity, associated with wakeful, relaxed attention” and increased learning.

While it is extremely important for each of us to do our “inner work”, not all of us are ready or feel comfortable to jump on to the mindfulness meditation bandwagon despite the fact that even a little meditation can help.

  • Just 20 minutes a day can achieve beneficial results like stress reduction.
  • After just 10 days of meditation, you can experience significant improvements in mindfulness and contemplative thoughts, boost memory and sustain attention.
  • After just 8 weeks of training, you can experience better performance and reduced feelings of stress during an event that incites anxiety.
  • Specified training can promote idea generation and increase levels of creativity as well as levels of empathy and compassion.

∞ ∞ ∞

Whether you are interested in undertaking a contemplative practice such as mindfulness meditation or not, there are small changes you can make to your life right now to help bring attention to what you feel inside; what you need in the moment; and how those emotions and needs project on to others.  I’m reminded of some of the guidelines we’ve developed for participants in Dialogue and how those very simple recommendations can be used as mindfulness tools in your everyday interactions.

  • Listen with the intent to fully understand.  Are you mindfully hearing and attempting to comprehend the meaning of words spoken by another?
  • One person speaks at a time.  Do you allow for another to verbally share his or her full thought or do you have a habit of interrupting when another is talking?
  • Use inquiry more often than giving opinions or answers.  Do you balance questions with statements or are you more prone to consistently give opinions?
  • Notice your internal reactions to others’ statements.  Sit with them and be mindful of what drives those feelings and sensations.
  • Suspend critical judgments and assumptions.  Just.  Let.  Go.

∞ ∞ ∞

As a meditation practioner for nearly 20 years now, I am a true advocate of mindfulness practice and the many benefits it brings.  I feel better when I am in the present moment “on purpose, non-judgmentally” and give gentle effort to this every day as often as I am capable.  In any moment when I notice I am not present, just noticing that allows me to become mindful once again.  The cycle continues, and it’s a beautiful thing!  

At the same time, I understand that mindfulness practice is not for everyone.  And that’s okay.

Regardless of any view you may have towards mindfulness practice, I believe what’s most important is to notice – to pay attention to — how you treat yourself and others — and to do this as often as possible.  

I meditate.  I practice Qigong.  I observe in nature.  I use the Dialogue guidelines as a practice in action – and find them all to be extremely helpful.

And then there are those days when I just can’t seem to get out of my own way.  I’m too distracted to meditate.  I’m too restless to hold a Qigong posture.  And it’s just too hot and humid to go outside.
So I hit the pause button and ask myself:  In this moment, what do you need?  And I see what comes up…

Perhaps it’s a nap.

Or a good cry.

Or a talk with a friend.

And yes…
Some days…You Just Need French Fries!

Thank you my sweet baby girl – for your wisdom then and now…

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