Hindsight being 20/20, I can look back on some of my more unproductive conversations and pinpoint a fairly obvious trend ... I wasn't really listening. I mean, all of the necessary ingredients were present, none the least of which was my actual presence and willingness to pay attention, but I was too busy having my own little conversation in my mind to hear what was being said. In fact, the best examples of my worst attempts at communication are those in which I was reliving the past (and subsequently predicting the future). Instead of actually participating in the conversation, I brought all my baggage to the table as evidence of how I expected the discussion to unfold. My adversary could talk and talk and not one bit of it would soak in because my version of the story was far easier to believe. It's like communicative craft time: cutting and pasting the parts that supported my agenda and inserting them into my well-written plot. Somehow my deepest fears and my darkest thoughts felt more comforting than the truth of the moment.
These seeds (or samskaras, as they're called in sanskrit) of our past experiences filter the words of another in ways that serve to validate our experience. Every time we water them we invite them to take over, like weeds in a garden, suffocating the healthy plants and making it more difficult for us to see the reality of the moment. BKS Iyengar writes in Light On Life, "We all know that a scab that we constantly pick will not heal. In the same way we have to let old wounds in memory heal over. This does not mean repressing them. It means that what is not fed will wither." Our efforts in communication can either serve our samskaras or our higher truth. It's a constant, moment-to-moment choice and one that requires practice.
Going back to my handy-dandy quote, we must acknowledge that this whole weed infestation problem most likely exists in the minds of those with whom we're trying to communicate. Telling someone how we feel is great, but we often underestimate the power and consequence of our words. Satya (truthfulness) must be tempered with ahimsa (non-violence). Compassion and patience are necessary to identify the most effective modes of transportation for your message. Learning where their seeds are planted can help you navigate the path and shed light on what your words sound like on the receiving end. The skill of hearing and being heard is a tool to affect positive change. As darkness from the past starts to brighten and anxiety about the unknown dissolves, truth becomes a two-way street.
My samskaras usually keep me one step behind or one step ahead of the conversation and so my work is to do my best to leave the baggage at home and sit in the truth of the moment. Then, and only then, am I really living in the now. Anything else is simply a fabrication of the mind. I'm learning that interactions can be intimate, real, and uplifting when I keep my heart open to giving and receiving truth. "Communication isn't what's said. It's what's heard." Great quote.