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Staying Present: What Couples and Mediators Long For

by Sarah Peyton
September 2015

From Sarah Peyton's newsletter

Sarah Peyton

The most elusive thing in this world is present-time relationship. It is hard enough to be mindful all by ourselves. There is a reason that meditation practices are traditionally done sitting on our own individual cushion and in silence. Once we start asking ourselves to be mindful in relationship, we've exponentially expanded the order of difficulty. Actually existing for one another is tricky. Having a conversation while we exist for each other is even more challenging.

For example, our simple conversations may consist of planning what we're going to say while we wait for the other person to stop talking.

Arguments are another way that we leave the present, for example:

"You never tell me what's going on." (Can you spot the years of resentment that have built up?)
"I'm going to stop you right there - I know what you're going to say and I don't want to hear it." (predicting the future)

If being in the present is what we are longing for, it is helpful to have a practice of somatic-based empathy, because it is our bodies that hold our past resentments and it is our bodies that dread the future, based on what has happened to us before.

Conversations that happen in present time are dances of expression and acknowledgment. They are an art form. They include memory with clear time-stamping and build each person's sense of existing and mattering. Warm curiosity, resonance and a growing understanding flow in the space between the conversants. There is empathy for the experiences that are hard. And especially when one person catches another's positive energy, this creates a special glue of connection and secure attachment.

The knowledge that comes out of Interpersonal Neurobiology also supports this kind of relationship, because it allows us to see ourselves more clearly, and with compassion. We start to understand our nervous systems and the tiny cues that knock us into alarm, and cascading effects of alarm and shame and overwhelm that can ensue.

As we nourish an understanding of our own and our friends' and partners' hemispheric preferences, we find more comprehension of habits of mind for which we may have blamed ourselves and others. For example, our left hemispheres don't even like to hear emotional words, and can fog our brains so that we don't remember what our partner actually said. Additionally, when something is bewildering, if our left hemisphere can blame another person for the occurrence, we calm down. Blaming is calming for brains that have no access to compassion.

As our capacity to encompass ourselves and others with gentleness expands, we are moving toward secure attachment, and the journey takes us toward better health, more social grace and ease, richer friendships and family lives, and a greater sense of meaning.


Ms. Sarah Peyton is the owner of the Interpersonal Neurobiology and Somatic Empathy.  She studied neurobiology and has experience in conflict resolution.   

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