Preparing yourself for a mediation is challenging. No one likes conflict, and no matter how well you prepare or how much faith you have in the process, there will be emotion involved. While writers frequently have spoken to the role of mindfulness in preparing mediators to engage in mediation, few have addressed how parties can use mindfulness in the context of the mediation process itself.
Healthline defines mindfulness as “the practice of gently focusing your awareness on the present moment over and over again.” Mindful Based Stressed Reduction (MBSR) instructor Karen Sothers reminded me that mindfulness is a function not just focusing on the present moment, but of paying attention to how you are in the present moment. Are you resisting the moment? Is your body tensing? Are you introducing negativity? In becoming aware of your reaction – body and mind – you begin to move away from automatic reactivity, and develop the sensitivity and insight to become a thoughtful observer.
In mediation, mindfulness can help parties skillfully navigate their inner reactivity; be more thoughtful in their responses; and develop a consciousness that facilitates the creativity and openness necessary for strong agreements. Perhaps best of all, the techniques below can be done right in front of another person without their ever knowing it, allowing you to keep grounded in high-stress situations.
Keep a Journal
Journaling is a way to remain present and maintain perspective throughout the mediation process. This is very useful in calming emotions and focusing on facts.
Journal before, during and after a mediation. Journal before a mediation to plan what you want to talk about and develop responses to those issues that are likely at the heart of the other party’s concerns.
Journal (otherwise known as ‘taking notes’) during a mediation to counter your automatic reactions. Take this time to make notes about what the other party is saying and how you would like to respond. This is also your time to focus in on the present moment. Is your jaw tense? How are you breathing (more on that below)? Are you even listening to the other party, or are you developing a narrative of your own making based on what they said? Can you remember, with specificity, what caused you to be in this moment? By journaling, you are both creating space to choose how to react, and you are uncovering important information about yourself that will help you to understand what is keeping you in this conflict.
Use journaling after a mediation to become more mindful about what is feeding this conflict. There is some dynamic between you and the other party that will not allow you to move forward. Is there something that they said that you are curious or confused about? Is there something about the way you reacted that left you upset? How did being upset feel? How long did it last? Is this something to bring to a professional to address? All of this can help you better prepare yourself for the next round of mediation.
Soft Belly Breathing
Breathing from our chest is both a stress response, and a culturally-learned value in our flat-belly-loving society. Sadly, just as breathing from our belly is enough to cue our brain that everything is calm, continuously breathing from our chest can be enough to cue our brain that danger abounds.
Relearn to breathe from your belly by putting one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Breathe first into your belly hand and then into your chest hand; then out from your chest through your belly – this is a complete healing breath. If this alone is a skill you need to relearn, practice it when you are at a red light. The strap of your seatbelt is the perfect line from chest to the abdomen to focus on. Practicing at each red light throughout the day will build this into a new habit.
When in stress, simply focus on the in-breath and the out-breath. If this is enough to keep your attention, then leave it at that. However, if you are having a hard time keeping your focus, play with the speed of your breathing. Try 4-4-4-4 breathing or longer inhalations and exhalations. Find out what helps you to turn inward, focus on your breathing, and release the stress of the outside world. 4-4-4-4 breathing (or paced breathing) consists of breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, breathing out for 4 seconds, and holding for 4 seconds. Nor does this have to be 4-4-4-4. Try holding for 5 seconds or breathe in for 3, hold for 2; breathe out for 4, hold for 1. There are apps that will help you support your paced breathing practice.
Sit in your chair straight and strong. Uncross your legs and plant your feet on the floor. Drop your shoulders, pulling them away from your neck. Relax the space between your brows, soften your jaw and let your teeth separate. Feel your feet strongly on the ground, your back against the chair. Know your strength. Feel it. Feel the support of the earth. Let everything else fall away.
Grounding yourself helps you find your strength and can help the world slip away. It is a way to hide from the world for a moment and come back stronger, while no one knows that you ever left.
Gratitude is powerful stuff. It opens you up to hope, which is essential to the creativity you’ll need to resolve your conflict. Mediation requires thinking expansively, looking at the problem from different angles, and seeking new solutions. You cannot do this when you are shut down by anger and fear. Jeanette Bronée, CEO and founder of Path For Life said that gratitude helps you start by “seeing that you’ve got options, you’ve got things to work with.”
It can remind you of the good things in the other party and why it is important to come to a resolution that is agreeable, and healing, for all parties. Gratitude can remind you of what matters most and pull you through the hard emotional parts of the conversation.
When you are mediating through a conflict in order to preserve a relationship, it is beneficial to introduce gratitude into a mediation. However, even when you are hoping to sever a relationship, reminding yourself of what drew you to the person initially can help keep you on track to a sustainable agreement. Gratitude reminds us that miscommunication – rather than the other party – is the enemy.
If you want to use these techniques in mediation, look for a mediator that practices them and can help guide you. I find opportunities to pepper mindfulness moments throughout my mediations. Equally, it is important that you practice these techniques outside of mediation. Consider finding a Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, or some other practice which incorporates mindfulness. Mindfulness and mediation often reveal triggers which are best explored with a therapist.
From the Mediate.com interview series -- a conversation with Howard Gadlin about his chapter in the book Evolution of a Field: Personal Histories in Conflict Resolution, recorded March 25, 2021...By Howard Gadlin, Colin Rule