A Summary of Month One

January 30, 2010 at 7:58 pm (connection, January Challenge) (, , , , )

First off, I am going to apologize for not posting anything for quite some time. However, have no worries- I haven’t forgotten about my resolution 🙂 . In fact, quite the contrary has ocurred. I’ve thought about it every day during almost every encounter I’ve had. Would you like to know what’s happened? Read on.

What has happened is– very little. I know it is disappointing to hear, but I might almost say that I failed at my January resolution. As much as I tried to forge genuine connections with the people I came into contact with, I just couldn’t do it most of the time. Sure, I tried-  I REALLY tried for the first week or so. But I just wasn’t always sure *how* to do it. I tried smiling at the people I came into contact with and really looking them in the eyes. I tried making conversation more than I usually would and expressing more interest than I normally would. I tried giving genuine compliments. Sure, all of these things pulled me out of my comfort zone a little bit, but did they make my interactions with other people any more “real”? Occasionally, yes (I’ll write more about that below). But in general, no. Instead, I just felt like I was “forcing” things. I felt like I was trying too hard, and as a result, my interactions were probably more forced than they were genuine. It was exhausting! After a week or two I got so exhausted that I stopped trying so much. Instead, I just began observing my normal interactions with people. Most of the time, they skimmed on the surface. I saw, over and over again, my tendency to close up, to “stay above the surface” with people. I want to have a different experience, but I’m not sure that my initial tactic of “trying harder” is going to work.

However, the challenge wasn’t a total failure. There were a few times when, without really even trying, I opened up. For example, after an evening out one night I saw a homeless man sitting against the brick holding a cardboard sign. My usual instinct would be to look away and keep walking. Not only do panhandlers generally make me feel uneasy, but I also have never believed in handing out money to these people.  On this particular night, however, without even thinking about it, the strangest thing happened: Instead of passing the man by, I walked up to him and looked him right in the eyes. “How are you doing tonight?” I asked. And I really meant it. I really wanted to know how he was doing. I wanted him to feel acknowledged as a human being, to feel as if he mattered. I even considered giving him some money until I remembered that I had no cash with me. And yet, I somehow felt that maybe this was what he really needed. Just as much as he needed money or food or shelter, maybe he needed to be acknowledged as the human being that he is. Maybe that’s what we all need- just a little bit more compassion from the world around us. In really acknowledging his presence, I felt  twinges of kindness, compassion, and sadness all rolled up into one. “You hang in there, man. You hang in there.” And I went on my way.

It was strange to me how although I’d been trying for the past week to really connect with people, the most genuine and natural interaction that I had was with this man. I’m not sure if my encounter had any effect on him, but it certainly did on me. I was opened. Unexpectedly, I was filled with compassion. I found myself thinking about how it must feel to be in his place, about how many people must walk by him each day without so much as a glance. Indifference, day in and day out. What must it feel like to be so ignored, so invisible, so unworthy in the eyes of your fellow kind? I truly felt for him.

This experience reminded me of a quote I’ve heard: “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle.” I don’t know this man. I don’t know his story, and I have no idea how he got where he is or what he has been through. I can say the same of almost everyone I meet- I have no idea where they’re coming from or what they’ve been through. Most of us are not homeless, but we are all struggling- or have struggled- with hardships in our lives. In the end, this is one of the things that intertwines us all.

A psychology professor of mine once told this story of the Buddha:

A woman came to the Buddha one day, mourning over her 3-month-old baby who had died. She wouldn’t put it down. She carried it for weeks, even though it was putting everyone off. She said, “Make my baby live.” He said, “I can’t do that. I can give you the seed to finding peace in the midst of this difficulty. Go get a teaspoon of coriander from every family that’s not had a death in the family. Bring back three teaspoons of coriander and we’ll make the elixir. She went to family after family, and in every family she met, there’d been death in the family and tragedy. She comes back and said, “I am not alone after all.” She could finally bury the baby.

My professor said it best: “If we think we are the only ones suffering, that makes us suffer the most. One definition of suffering is “pain without a sense of connection.””  If only we could experience a more true and genuine connection with our friends, with our neighbors, and even with strangers, then there would be so much less suffering in the world. The only question for me now is how to make this happen. As I discovered this month, simply “trying harder” to connect with others doesn’t seem to work. When I truly did feel a connection, it was almost by accident – a moment of grace. All I can say for sure is that January’s resolution does not end now. It’s something that I’ll continue to explore throughout the year. Right now, though, I’m gearing up for February’s resolution. It’s going to be a good one!

Until Feb 1,

Therese 🙂

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