Mindfulness of Others

Depression and grief can be isolating. After a few years of that isolation, that being alone, I knew I had to reconnect with friends. I knew it would be hard. I didn’t want to be with people, to put on a happy face, and I was worried that my friends would be wary, not knowing what to say to me.

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DBT (Dialectic Behavior Therapy) has a module in Interpersonal Effectiveness called “Mindfulness of Others.” Mindfulness of self and God has definite benefits of well-being and joy, besides the benefits of mindfulness to yourself, mindfulness helps to increase our attention to others’ well-being.

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Mindfulness of Others is different from centering Mindfulness because your focus is to pay full attention to another person. Full connection with someone else can get you out of your own “skin.” And connecting in person, looking into another’s eyes is more rewarding than electronic tweets, texts and emails. It’s a choice to show up and be present.

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Even my wiener Daisy is mindful of others! When we come home, even if only gone for a bit, she greets us with a huge dog smile- gums pulled back teeth bared. When we smile back, she grins more, and keeps it up until we acknowledge her with a scratch of her ear or a hug.

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Around the time I was feeling like I should get more involved with my friends, we were asked to attend of big dinner with all of our friends from an organization we support. This was the perfect time to practice what I was learning in DBT.

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The first step of the module asks us to be observing of others. Pay close attention to what they are saying, stop multi-tasking (put away the phone!) and stay present rather than thinking about what you will say next. Someone told me once that it’s more important to be “interested” instead of “interesting.” This was especially important at the dinner because I wanted people to be comfortable around me again and not feel like they had to navigate around my grief.

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And give up always having to be right. I practice this a lot with my husband and we laugh now as I say, “You’re right, Honey!”

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The next step is to describe. Replace judgmental words with descriptive words. Practice curiosity by asking questions about what the other person is saying. Stay present, open and unbiased. And don’t worry about what others might be thinking of you! There is no possible way for us to know what someone is thinking, so don’t go there (not even afterward when you’re at home mulling over your conversations.)

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Lastly, participate! Throw yourself into conversations, paraphrase what someone has just told you, so they have a sense of your understanding. Make eye contact and when appropriate touch someone’s arm and smile. Go with the flow instead of controlling the show! I read once that mindful listening takes a combination of intention and attention. Listening is a gift and we all know how good it feels when someone is interested in what we are saying!

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The dinner was a success. My friends were happy to see me resurface and I met some new friends too. If you are trying to resurface from the oblivion of depression and grief, I would recommend a function with a few people, like a barbeque, a birthday party, to try out these skills.

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After the dinner one of my friends called me and asked me to help design a float for an upcoming parade. Yes, I was afraid, but I threw myself out there and have been meeting with the float committee for a few weeks now. I have made new friends on this committee and even though there are days that I don’t want to go, I know they depend on me and I always enjoy it when I get there. I can feel a sense of accomplishment at getting out and doing something of value.

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Save the tough relationship until you find your bearings with simple ones. Part of observing is to let go of judgmental thoughts which can be hard in a difficult relationship. Right now, as I’m learning to connect again, I am surrounding myself with positive people

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