Have you ever stared at an imperfectly laminated menu so hard that the specials seemed to wiggle on the page, squirming in a visual representation of the awkwardness that seems to be emanating from the table itself? “It’s been a while since I last had ramen…” you trail off as you surface, your heart sinking deeper into a plunge pool of cringe. Chances are, your last excruciating delivery of such a surefire conversation-stopper happened on a date, and you’re still being backsplashed by the broth of the memory…
The prospect of haunting conversational hiatuses on dates is an anxiety which can be off-putting enough to make you want to avoid making plans in the first place. If you can’t bring yourself to brave the initial stages of getting to know one another, however, your relationships have no chance of developing that delicious closeness; a promised landing wherein moments of silence (though still inevitable!) no longer matter — and likewise, neither do the lead balloons that will occasionally continue to precede them.
Consciously evolving beyond our luddite societal tendency to misperceive silences as an embarrassment or a nuisance has a wide variety of different benefits. This incredibly rewarding shift in perspective can be catalysed by regularly practicingmeditation. Your deepening facility with this ancient relaxation technique will empower you to access a treasure trove of interpersonal insights that conversational silences can offer, particularly when it comes to the ones that star-stud your love life.
Are you sitting comfortably? Check in with yourself!
The silences you experience with your date can tell you just as much about your relationship — in the literal and fundamental sense of how you relate to one another — as insights gleaned from verbal conversations.
Next time you find yourself staring down the barrel of a menu, flagellating yourself with tenuous noodle-based observations that you can’t quite formulate into witticisms no matter how hard you squirm, think about all the times in your life that you’ve made someone laugh to the point of joyous tears. Chances are, across this wide array of different circumstances with family, friends and lovers, the common factor is that you were happy and relaxed; a mindstate which allows the more creative, social elements of your psyche to shine through.
As you deepen your meditation practice, you will find that your internal propensity to check in with yourself kicks in more instinctually. Are you actually feeling comfortable in their company? Giving yourself time to notice if this is not the case is a vital precursor to analysing why you feel ill at ease; identifying the social and situational changes that would allow you to feel like your happiest, best self more of the time. Improving your ability to choose experiences (and people to date!) that make you feel relaxed is key to self-realisation and becoming a more adroit technician of your personal wellbeing.
Savouring the sanctuary inside the silence
When we accept silences as inextricable strands of the fabric of social life, we stop kicking ourselves for creating them and begin to unlock the great potential with which they are vested, to deepen our self-knowing. As your meditative practice expands your sense of perspective, you’ll find yourself able to zoom out from all kinds of situations and conversations to a greater and greater degree.
This increasingly healthy ability to detach from any sense of unwarranted personal responsibility for naturally-occuring silences will give you the security you need to take as much space as you require, whenever you want it. It may seem unthinkable at the moment, but you could even find yourself deliberately slipping into a silence during a date to give yourself a breather before navigating the situation in whichever ways that serve you best. For instance, to mull over an idea, savour a moment, lend drama to a story, leave, or perhaps make a deliberate switch into non-verbal communication…
Communicating in ways beyond words
If you’re writhing around in existential agony during any pauses that crop up, this is a singularly solitary (and lonely!) experience. Furthermore, it could be eclipsing any possibility of simultaneously sharing a moment of togetherness. The more strongly you buy unquestioningly into the fallacy that silences are necessarily a bad thing, the more heavily you will bear them as a personal burden. Paradoxically, this approach, which is all too easy to fall into, makes it even harder to move past the moment. The resultant sensation of secret self-blame can seem to last an eternity.
Beeja meditation reduces stress, calming the nervous system by decreasing our automatic production of stress-related hormones epinephrine and cortisol. Their overall levels within the body correspondingly diminish, making us less likely to enter the state of acute stress which they underpin — called ‘fight or flight mode’ — and decreasing the scale and frequency of our responses to potential triggers of stress, such as silences.
When we are freed from our automatic physical stress responses and the sense of entrapment within our inner worlds that they can all too easily engender, a moment of silence becomes richly marinated with all kinds of potential for non-verbal communication. This can range, for instance, from shared smiles to scoping out one another’s inclinations for increased physical closeness. As you both able to relax into the moment, moreover, you open yourselves to noticing comical elements of the surrounding environment together; this enables the building of a shared cognitive landscape. Before you know it, you’ll be riding the next wave of conversation.
Stand your ground in silences, in life, as in love
“I’m the sort of person who, when someone leaves a silence, I just have to fill it…” It is observations such as these that give silence an unnecessarily bad name, consecrating its widespread social reception as an undesirable mire which should be avoided at all costs. Like silences themselves, these kinds of self-preserving attempts to distance ourselves from behaviours we perceive as awkward can result in using others as foils and making them feel bad in all kinds of contexts, from dates to group conversations to watercooler chats.
By rushing to evangelise ourselves and claim the hallowed social status of someone who never leaves silences, we make an undue pronouncement of their social undesirability. This kind of maneuver, palpably born out of insecurity, inherently disconnects people; it achieves its absolving effect at the expense of those around us, who — as statements like these necessarily imply — must be culpable for any future silences that naturally ensue.
While our internal emotional responses to various social phenomena are vital to our own navigation of the wider world, a Beeja meditation practice can help us develop the self awareness to realise that our personal perceptions of conversational happenings do not necessarily need to be imposed on those around us.
If someone makes you feel guilty or responsible for a silence — rather than having consciously developed people skills to experience it separately, or together, (or both!) — they are more than likely at an earlier stage of their self-discovery journey than you. There’s no need for it to become a cue to be reactively unkind to yourself. No matter whether it happens on a date or during a platonic interaction, take a moment to sit back, breathe, and restore the self-confidence you are building with the aid of your meditation practice to the forefront of your mind.
If you would like to explore how Beeja Meditation can help you build your confidence, improve your relationships and achieve deeper self-knowing in 2020, get in touch, or book a place on one of our classes and courses in London.
Words: Rosalind Stone