We’re pleased to present the latest installment of Dr. Rick Hanson’s Greater Good blog, featuring posts from his Just One Thing (JOT) newsletter, which offers simple practices designed to bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart.
This post’s practice is to speak from the heart—meaning that you try for open and honest communication, especially with the people who matter most to you.
One Christmas I hiked down into the Grand Canyon, whose bottom lay a vertical mile below the rim. Its walls were layered like a cake, and a foot-high stripe of red or gray rock indicated a million-plus years of erosion by the Colorado river.
Think of water—so soft and gentle—gradually carving through the hardest stone to reveal great beauty. Sometimes what seems weakest is actually most powerful.
In the same way, speaking from an open heart can seem so vulnerable yet be the strongest move of all. Naming the truth—in particular, the facts of one’s experience, which no one can disprove—with simplicity and sincerity, and without contentiousness or blame, has great moral force. You can see the effects writ small and large, from a child telling her parents, “I feel bad when you fight” to the profound impact of people describing the atrocities they suffered in Kosovo or Rwanda.
I met recently with a man whose marriage is being smothered by the weight of everything unsaid. What’s unnamed is all normal-range stuff—like wishing his wife were less irritable with their children and more affectionate with him—but he’s had a fear of facing it, as if it could blow up the relationship.
But not talking is what’s actually blowing up their relationship—and, in fact, when people do communicate in a heartfelt way, it’s dignified and compelling, and it usually evokes support and open-heartedness from others.
This week, look for one or more opportunities to speak from your heart. Pick a topic, a person, and a moment that’s likely to go well. Before you talk:
- Ground yourself in good intentions, whatever they may be. To discover and express the truth. To help yourself and the other person.
- Get a basic sense of what you want to say. Focus on your experience: thoughts, feelings, body sensations, wants, memories, images, the dynamic flow through awareness. It’s hard to argue with your experience, but easy to get into wrangles about situations, events, the past, or problem-solving.
- Be confident. Have faith in your sincerity, and in the truth itself. Recognize that others may not like what you have to say, but you have a right to say it without needing to justify it, and that saying it is probably good for your relationship. When you speak:
- Take a breath and settle into your body.
- Recall being with people who care about you. (This will help deepen your sense of inner strength, and warm up the neural circuits of wholeheartedness.)
- Soften your throat, eyes, chest, and heart. Try to find a sense of goodwill, even compassion, for the other person.
- Bring to mind what you want to say.
- Take another breath, and start speaking.
- Try to stay in touch with your experience as you express it. Don’t get into any sense of persuasion, justification, defensiveness, or problem-solving. (That’s for later, if at all.) Be direct and to the point: When people truly speak from the heart, they often say what needs to be said in a few minutes or less; it’s the “case” they build up and wrap around the heart of the matter that takes all those extra words.
- Keep coming back to the essential point for you, whatever it is (especially if the other person gets reactive or tries to shift the topic). And feel free to disengage if the other person is just not ready to hear you; maybe another time would be better. “Success” here is not getting the other person to change, but you expressing yourself.
- As appropriate, open to and encourage the other person to speak from the heart, too. And afterward: Know that whatever happened, you did a good thing. It’s brave and it’s hard (especially at first) to speak from the heart. But so necessary to make this world a better place.