Human relationships are the most rewarding and the most challenging experiences that we will ever have. When these relationships are connected and authentic (heart-centered), they help us feel seen, heard, and acknowledged. When these relationships are ego-driven and self-centered, they can lead to feelings of fear, jealousy, hurt, and anger. Despite how important these human interactions are, we get little to no training in how to connect with one another unless we earnestly seek it out.
Supports for Connection
Connect with Yourself. Learning to connect with yourself is the first step in being able to connect with another human being. As you develop a capacity to see yourself and hold yourself with care, you can do this for someone else. This is greatly enhanced by a practice of honest self-reflection and meditation, as well as vulnerability and courage. Looking inward is a journey of great reward for those who are brave enough to go there.
I recently became aware of how I might have hurt someone unintentionally. Sitting with this information for a few days was such an interesting process. First, I felt bad that I had caused harm. Second, I had to forgive myself for causing harm. Since I have been practicing “listening to my heart” this month in my energy medicine yoga classes, I naturally turned to my heart for its guidance. It gave me a variety of messages, but at one point it clearly said “forgive yourself.” Whew! What a relief. That opened me up by taking me out of my self-centered need for protection and into an openness to the other person and their pain.
Connecting With Those Pain. During this time, I became aware of a New York Times article, “Train Yourself to Always Show Up,” that describes an ancient Jewish ritual. Several times each year, hundreds of thousands of Jews would climb the steps of the Temple Mount and enter its enormous plaza. People who were suffering from some heartache would turn left and the others would turn right to walk around the plaza, eventually passing each other. The people on the right, upon meeting someone in pain, would inquire: “What happened to you? Why does your heart ache?” After listening, they would offer a blessing: “May the Holy One comfort you. You are not alone.” What a beautiful practice of seeing one another. And, who knows which side of the plaza you will be on the next time you go.
Connecting with Those in Joy. Sometimes people have difficulty connecting with people who are happy if they aren’t happy themselves. While this is understandable, putting yourself in the path of happy people can enhance your own wellbeing. Joy is contagious if you don’t put a wall up against it. And, at the very least, try practicing sympathetic joy (from the Buddhist tradition) which asks you to be happy for someone who is doing well. Celebrate their wellbeing and success. When you share in their happiness by being happy for them, you are automatically increasing your own joy. Give it a try and see how you feel.
Connecting On a Daily Basis. We have the opportunity every day to create connection or create division. Pay attention to how you interact in person and in the digital space. How are you creating connections? Divisions? We live in a world where divisiveness is prevalent and pervasive. It feels even more important than ever to counteract this tendency with words, actions, and behaviors that foster our ability to live with one another in love. Where can you give a smile, a listen, an acknowledgement?
Creating rituals. I mentioned one ritual above, but there are many more that can be helpful. One practice that I do with my husband has been helpful over the years. We each take five minutes to talk about anything that we want, and the other person just listens. This ten-minute ritual often turns into much more, and it’s surprising the things we have learned about each other. Just ten minutes. You can also set up weekly (or daily) times to connect with friends and family. Because our lives are so full, scheduling in times to connect can be very helpful.
Barriers to Connection
So many things get in the way of true connection. Here’s a short list to ponder:
Being in a hurry is one sure way to miss one another. Feeling rushed is common in our modern world and our relationships suffer as a result. There doesn’t often seem time to sit down and just listen to one another. We talk to each other as we’re zooming around from one room to the next, one place to the other. Connection does not happen under these circumstances.
Doing more than one thing at a time. How many times have you been on your phone while you’re “listening” to someone else? You may be on the phone with someone and simultaneously scrolling through your email or social media, essentially missing half of what the other person has said. You may be in the same room with someone and believe (as my husband does) that you can listen and do something on your phone at the same time. We’re all a work in progress, and I will continue to gently guide him into eye contact during our discussions. It feels SO much better.
Talking too much. The best conversations are those that entail a somewhat equal amount of time for each person to express themselves. Pay attention to your conversations. Are you talking much of the time? Listening much of the time? Can you encourage a balance by talking less or encouraging someone else to speak more? Of course, when one person is in pain, it is appropriate to give them time to speak and your most important job is to listen.
Fear of Judgment and rejection. You might not be opening up because you fear being judged by another person. While it is important to learn to be vulnerable in front of another, it can also be important to assess what people are safe enough to do this. The more I have allowed myself to be vulnerable and transparent in whatever situation I am in, the more connected I feel to others. But it is a process.
Filters. We look at each other through our own prejudices and preconceived ideas. It is something that happens naturally as we categorize our worlds and the people in them, but it keeps us from truly connecting with one another in the present moment. Everyone is changing all the time. If you put someone into a box that you created for them years or even days ago, you will not truly see that person in the present moment, as they are. It is a beautiful practice to show up fresh to see a person with new eyes each time you see them.
Needing to be right. I love the saying from A Course in Miracles–You can be right. Or you can be happy. But you can’t be both. In human relationships this is particularly true. Can you put aside your beliefs for a moment to see if you can empathize with the other side. What do you get by needing to be right? What might you get by letting that go? From my own experience, opening my heart to another’s truth has given space for us both to be held by something larger than the idea of right and wrong. As Rumi said,
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
There is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
The world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
Doesn’t make any sense.
Connection happens moment by moment. Pay attention throughout the day for when you move toward and away from connection. Notice what strengthens your ability and lessens it. I hope these musings on connecting from the heart have been helpful. I’d love to hear about your thoughts on the topic. Email me and let’s connect!