When you find yourself in conflict with another individual, taking time to reflect using this simple mindfulness practice can be a powerful way in helping to resolve such a tense situation.

How disagreement happens

When two people disagree, it doesn’t mean one is right and the other wrong. Not all disagreements have to end with both people agreeing. You can agree to disagree. In fact, when two people disagree or quarrel it means that they are both engaged in thinking about the subject on the table, and only that subject. They literally become that subject. But they are unaware of their process of thinking.

If both people were to become fully aware of their process of thinking, finding a solution to the disagreement would be easy—the solution would then simply present itself. No need to bang one’s head on the table for the sake of winning the argument, no need to become agitated about a differing point of view, no need to scream and shout at each other. All that needs to be done is to become aware of the process of thinking at the moment agitation happens. In other words, use mindfulness in order to bring the process of your thinking into your awareness.

How thinking happens

The process of thinking is not the same as the thought process. While the thought process is the result of personal conditioning, culture, and accumulated experiences—which always perpetuate certain beliefs (thought patterns) and our subsequent actions thereof—the process of thinking is how thinking happens in the mind. It relates to the way we think, thought after thought, moment after moment. And it can be brought into our awareness by being mindful of how we think.

Bringing it into awareness however does not tell us anything about the actual subject of the disagreement on the table. It tells us something about the location of our subjective evaluation. Or to put it differently: awareness tells us how disagreement happens. It tells us what causes our agitation by gently guiding us back to our center, the location of our subjective evaluation. Here, we automatically find a deeper understanding of what is actually happening within us. When we reach our center, the disagreement will resolve itself, without our having to do anything—because where we are determines how we see what we see, and how we think what we think. This sounds like a paradox, but it is not.

Taming the monkey mind

Until we become aware of our center, unfortunately we mostly see that the other person is wrong. We don’t see that it is our mind that is the cause of this duality by way of evaluating that we are right and the other is wrong. This phenomena is called the monkey mind—it’s mostly restless, refuses to become still, and wanders off unaware of what it is doing. It shapes our thinking and our behavior.

Taming the monkey mind is not for the light hearted. It requires a lot of practice in becoming aware of your process of thinking. And becoming aware of the process of thinking, especially when you find yourself in conflict with another individual, means to go much deeper than just following through with a good argument. It means to enter the realm of thought, our own thought, maintain focus on your process of thinking, and see what is happening in the mental realm.

It’s not about the facts of the disagreement. It’s not about who is right or who is wrong. It’s about the avoidance of facts through conditioned beliefs and the subsequent distortion of perception and response. This is the root cause of our experience of dissatisfaction, and therefore also the cause of our disagreements with others. It’s in awareness that we find the acceptance of this, not in the mind.

Krishnamurti explains it like this:

“[…] the important thing is not what another says, however great or stupid he may be, but to be aware of oneself, to see the fact of what is, from moment to moment […] independently of the thought process, which is the response of accumulated experience, then it is possible to go beyond the fact. It is the avoidance of the fact that brings about conflict, but when you recognize the truth of the fact, then there is a quietness of mind in which conflict ceases.”
Source: Jiddu Krishnamurti Talk at New York & Seattle 1950.

Original post from February 27, 2015. Last updated: May 4, 2017