I am staying in a cabin in north Georgia this week while doing some artwork for a client. It’s secluded so I don’t have to deal with other people much but I do have to encounter others when I’m working on the project or when I have to go to the store for supplies. I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable interacting with people in locations I’m visiting. Sometimes I feel like an invader. Like I’ve moved into their home and they know nothing about me and I know nothing about them but we need to now, somehow, relate. It’s a dysfunctional mental habit of my own. I’m not sure what it stems from but it always lingers in the background when I’m visiting unfamiliar locations.
I received an insight into that strange energy yesterday while at the grocery store. I saw several people, felt the energy rising up and I recognized it as resistance. I noticed there was a resistance to a potential expectation I would need to defend my reason for being there. Perhaps someone would ask me who I am, where I’m from, why I’m in the neighborhood. Not in a confrontational way, mind you, simply out of curiosity. I felt the anxiety of having to come up with dialogue. I’ll need to be interesting. Charming. I’ll have to say the correct thing or perhaps I’ll be judged.
I also noticed resistance to me starting any conversation with anyone at the store. “This is their town, what right do I have to strike up a conversation with them?” I watched a few of the shoppers and they, too, seemed to be disconnected from the shoppers around them. Everyone seemed to be focused on items on the shelves and no one was making eye contact. We all seemed just as distant from each other as we would be living in our own remote cabin in the woods.
I tend to enjoy solitude and social interaction isn’t one of my strengths. I realized, though, how healing eye contact, a quick smile or a friendly word can be to people who feel disconnected. It isn’t necessary to take on the personality of a flirty, overly-familiar truck stop waitress (apologies to flirty, overly-familiar truck stop waitresses) but interaction creates an inner opening and that opening invites the revealing of a sacred silence where once there may have been resistance, fear, or judgment.
In our society, we are frequently encouraged to “Unfriend” those who have differing opinions than we do but my recent insight made me see the value of communicating with other souls, no matter how different from me they are. Bring to every interaction the gift of spiritual openness and an atmosphere of non-judgment. It is spiritual healing on a subtle but vital level and for introverts like myself, it is a transforming spiritual practice. The healing happens in us as much or more than those we connect with.
The physical manifestation of openness is listening. In listening without judgment, we connect to others beyond physical form to our spiritual essence. We bring spaciousness and silence into our encounters and we receive others with the recognition that we are one. It matters not whether we agree with anything someone says in our conversations. It matters not what type of person they appear to be or what type of behavior they seem to be manifesting at the time. Listening is a powerful spiritual practice for all people in all situations.
This isn’t a revolutionary practice or a spiritual lesson for everyone. I know many people who seem to do this naturally. But many ”socially challenged”, like myself, can find a new perspective in altering the way we relate to others, particularly those who are unfamiliar to us. After catching this insight, I suddenly found my own resistance fading and I realized I wanted to seek out others to listen to. I even began planning on visiting environments where I would have huge differences with people just to hear what they had to say and to provide the openness in which they could say it.
I have made a decision to consciously incorporate this awareness into my own interactions. What do you think? Is this a practice that is missing from your life? Will it change the way you relate to others? Can you see a way this practice can change the world we live in?