“One of the main reasons we listen poorly is because our internal noise levels are so turbulent and obtrusive that they mark most of what others are saying. Only bits and pieces of their message survive the barrage of our mental interference.”
The above is from Rebecca Shafir’s ‘The Zen of Listening’ and it is just as true of how negative thoughts and beliefs about our stuttering can stop us from objectively experiencing moments of dysfluency. By learning to look past these thoughts and beliefs and understanding our stutter better we can make our peace with it and find ways to ease its impact on our lives.
I came across a brief presentation by well-known specialist Barry Guitar (who I believe is himself a person who stutters) on mindfulness and stuttering. It ends with some personal reflections, which I thought were helpful:
- Mindfulness meditation is best as a daily practice.
- Meditation provides an experience of feeling time slow down. [It] enhances a sense of calmness.
- [A mindful approach to stuttering can mean that you welcome opportunities] to stutter so that you can observe it and work with feelings and behaviours associated with it.
I recently did an interview with Pam Mertz over at her excellent blog ‘Make Room for the Stuttering’. We talk about stuttering, training to be a speech and language therapist and mindfulness. You can listen here:
Just read a nice little article by Stefan Bogdanov entitled ‘Addressing Fear through Meditation: Zen and Stuttering‘ (2009). Bogdanov makes some interesting points, for example warning against starting ‘mindfulness mediation in order to achieve fluency’. Rather than acting directly upon our speech, Bogdanov argues, it can instead help us better understand and manage our ‘fears, ideas and expectations’ around stuttering.
I came across an excellent episode of Stuttertalk where Michael P. Boyle (speech and language pathologist and person who stutters) talks mindfulness and stuttering:
People who stutter ‘have challenges keeping up with their fluency strategies or their speech modification techniques, it’s very difficult to be able to transfer that to everyday life and it requires a lot of vigilance and monitoring… to use the techniques taught in speech therapy. So I think mindfulness can help us train our attention and expand our capacity to pay attention… and that’s very relevant for using certain speech modification techniques.’
I’ve written about the book ‘Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout’ on my other blog, Mindful Walking, here. In it Philip Connors discusses the changing ways that forest fires have been understood in America. A century ago it was widely thought that forest fires, whatever their cause, should always be extinguished. This kind of thinking is easy to understand – nobody wants their house up in flames, the local economy crippled or the landscape scarred.
The problem is that when we relentlessly stamp out every fire, the wood that falls from trees each year accumulates on the forest floor. We might think we’re saving the forest, and ourselves, from the damaging effects of fire – but really we’re just delaying the inevitable. Eventually it will burn and, due to that dense carpet of wood on the forest floor, it’ll burn with a far greater intensity and over a greater area. As many now appreciate, forest fires are a natural part of the lifecycle of this landscape. They clear the way, allowing for new growth (which often follows remarkably swiftly following the fire). In some areas controlled fires (also known as prescribed fire) are set in order to prevent the kind of large-scale fires. They are actually fighting fire with fire. Awesome.
In many ways this resembles how mindfulness can be used to ease stuttering. When we begin to objectively experience and accept our stuttering, and the behaviours that come along with it, we start to remove that kindling from the forest floor. Difficult experiences of stuttering can be seen for what they are, rather than ignored or masked in the hope of appearing fluent. We accept the inevitability of some level of stuttering (the small, controlled fires) and, in doing so, we alleviate the tension and anxiety that stuttering can cause in our lives more generally (the potential for more intense, all-consuming fires).
New growth after the fire