A fascinating aspect of FIML practice is it provides experiential evidence that a good deal of what we say and hear is mistaken. We frequently make mistakes when we speak and when we listen. A major part of FIML practice involves catching these mistakes as they happen and correcting them.
We have spell-checkers for writing and when they kick in most of us calmly–even gratefully–attend to the red lines under misspelled words. In speech, though, very few of us have the habit of even noticing when a mistake has been made, let alone correcting it. In fact, if one is pointed out to us, we might even deny it or try to justify it. Once we say something, we generally have a strong tendency to want to stand by our words as if we meant them even if we did not mean them, or only sort of meant them, in the moments just before we spoke.
What kinds of mistakes will you find through FIML practice? Pretty much any way you can think of to describe or categorize speech will constitute a way that mistakes can be made. A mistake might involve word-choice, tone of voice, pronunciation, a dramatic stance that doesn’t suit you or is misunderstood by your partner, not hearing, missing the main point, becoming distracted, using or hearing a word that carries an idiosyncratic emotional charge, speaking or listening from a point of view that is not well understood by your partner, and so on. Mistakes can and will occur in as many ways as you can think of to describe language and how it is used.
How often do mistakes occur? Often. In an hour of normal speaking you will surely encounter a few, if not more. Many of them are not serious and are of little or no consequence. That said, even small mistakes can have huge ramifications. If I misunderstand your respectful silence as indifference, my misunderstanding could start a division between us that is truly tragic because my mistake (however slightly I notice it) is 180 degrees off. If I see you behave that way again, I will be more likely to make that same mistake again and to feel it more strongly. It is tragic because I am interpreting what is in your mind good behavior as something that reflects negatively on me.
A speech act or an act of listening can lock our minds into a position that is dead wrong if we are not careful.
FIML practice prevents this from happening while at the same time providing a great deal of very interesting subject matter for partners to ponder and discuss. Speech can lock our minds into mistaken impressions, but it can also free us from limitations if we use it to do FIML.
In other posts we have called neuroses “mistaken interpretations” and generally used that definition in a context that supports the meaning of an ongoing mistaken interpretation. A neurosis is a mistake in thinking or feeling that manifests in listening or speaking and that almost certainly originated through speaking or listening. I would contend that many neuroses begin with nothing more than an innocent mistake. Once the mistake is made, it snowballs (especially in the mind of a child) until it becomes an established way of listening and speaking.
Whether that contention is right or wrong, only time will tell. For this post today, all I want to say is that FIML partners can and should expect to notice a good many small mistakes occurring almost whenever they speak together.
Generally, mistakes most frequently occur when we start a new subject or add a new factor to an old subject; when we want to say something slightly different from the norm; or when we want to add a slight nuance or qualification to something that was said. One reason this happens is a slight change in a familiar subject may not be noticed by the listener, leading them to misunderstand what is being said and react in ways that do not seem fitting. A second reason this happens is a new subject often causes both partners to call up different frames of reference, leading to confusion.
FIML will get you to see how common these (and other kinds) of mistakes are and it will help you correct them. As you do this, both partners will gain great insight into how they speak, listen, and perceive each other. Once you get going, it is a lot of fun. I cannot think of any other way to accomplish what FIML does without doing it.
From a Buddhist point of view, FIML can be thought of as a sort of dynamic mindfulness done between two people and using language. It is a very intimate and beautiful way to be deeply aware of your partner and yourself. Those who have practiced traditional Buddhist mindfulness for a year or more will probably find FIML fairly easy to do. I hope that Buddhists will also notice that doing active FIML/mindfulness practice with a partner provides a way of checking each other–someone else will have something to say about what you thought you heard or said. It takes you out of yourself and provides wholesome feedback about the mind you are being mindful about.