Have you ever noticed how many mental tangents you experience in, say, a five minute period? Try this. Have a conversation with someone. While that person is speaking to you, listen. Just listen. Don't interrupt with your own thoughts and stories of your own experiences while they are talking. Don't interject your perceptions while they are talking. This is an exercise in the art of conversation. One person talks. Just ONE person talks. Then the other person responds when the first person is FINISHED talking.
Now that the rules are clear, listen to what the person is saying. Now listen some more. In the amount of time it took that person to finish, how many thought tangents have you had? How many places did you go that had nothing whatsoever to do with what the person was saying? Grocery lists, taxes, tasks lists, did I return the call to so and so who left me a message last week? When was that appointment that I was supposed to keep? I bet if I got the kids off to school on Wednesday there would be time to paint the living room. All of these kinds of thoughts are distractions. I will venture to guess that you experienced quite a few, and if so, welcome to the western world's version of reality.
Now, every time you have a tangent distracting you while someone is talking to you, breathe it out and away. You don't have to be labored in your breath, or that becomes a distraction in and of itself, even for the other person. Keep your lips closed so that you aren't saying anything that will interrupt, and breathe it out and away. Bring your mind back to the present moment and the conversation at hand.
You will find that as you do this, you will become much more attuned to what is being said to you, picking up on the subtleties and innuendos, and that in doing so you will discover deeper meanings in everything that is communicated. You will also find that in doing this you will be more aware, eventually, of the surroundings in which the conversation is taking place. Details that you would not have noticed that were perhaps in your peripheral vision, become part of the entire experience.
In ancient cultures there was something called the Talking Stick. This was a stick that was created from certain types of trees (the medicine of which was indicative of the energy that moved through the talking stick) and decorated with leather, fur, beads, feathers and the like. In council meetings, the talking stick would be passed around and each person had an opportunity to voice his or her thoughts and feelings. This also gave everyone else the opportunity to actively listen. As the talking stick moved around the circle, each person's individual voice would be not only heard, but honored as well. Each member of the circle would be in the moment with the conversation and would be able to train themselves to pay full attention to what is being said.
Now, how many times in the course of the day do you find yourself interrupted when you are trying to say something? Annoying, isn't it? Perhaps the talking stick should be introduced to the general populace. If each of us, however, trains ourselves to be good listeners then we can jump start the whole experience. We can then take those with whom we converse to a new level of awareness, simply by going there ourselves. After all, we do have two ears and only one mouth for a very good reason!