Humans are social animals; we long to connect with others which is why the social disconnections during the pandemic negatively affected so many people emotionally and mentally. The irony is that what makes us human tends to keep us apart. By nature, our conversations are filled with misunderstandings, mixed feelings, and unmet expectations.
At the core of our disconnection is our illusion that we believe we know what is real. We don’t like it when others challenge what we believe is true.
How your brain sabotages your attempts to connect
To survive, your brain is constantly affirming who you think you are and how you interpret the world around you based on past experiences. Your beliefs are not truths; your brain made them up to make sense of your daily events.
Your brain may alter your ongoing narrative as you age, but rarely makes more than incremental edits to your core beliefs. Therefore, you forget, don’t accept, or don’t even realize that you have created your own reality based on what you have experienced in your life so far. Everyone has a different experience of life, so your ideas about what is real and true will differ from those you interact with unless you choose to only be with people who have the same beliefs as you do.
Your views and meaning of what you call “reality” is simply a mirror of your life.
Even the concept of self is a reflection of your life experiences. You conjure up what is good and bad about yourself and everyone you interact with in relation to this manufactured self-concept. You go about your days directed by your assessment of I am and I know.
You need to quiet your I to experience Us
Inherent in I is a separation from others. When I is dominant in a conversations, it drowns out the sense of Us.
We all need some sense of self to function. You can’t question every activity you do. When in conversation, you call on your sense of self to assert your intentions, share your opinions, explore what is possible, and explain what you want even if what you want is something for the other person.
Experiencing someone to the fullest when in conversation—to feel their existence, their struggles, their desires, and their yearnings—requires you quiet your I. You can’t totally remove your I when listening to someone but you can quiet it to receive and appreciate what they are saying. You can then work toward a shared understanding by listening, offering to share, and negotiating what events and ideas might mean to both of you.
With practice, you can quiet your I to connect with the person you are with. You can clear your mind to see, hear, and understand their perspective. You can appreciate their ideas even if you disagree, knowing they come from their personal experience of life. Your connection and the results will be remarkable.
A first step to sincerely connect with someone is to lose the need to be right, to be respected, or to be in control. When you feel the urge to explain yourself, let it go. When their resistance feels disrespectful, unless they are intentionally causing you harm, don’t take it personal and let it go. When the conversation is not going how you expected, muster the courage to relax and stay present. Once you remove these needs, you may experience a merging of the minds.
Your I feeds on your opinions and personal needs. When you free up your mind, you can experience being in flow with someone else.
Prepping your mind to sincerely connect
Before engaging in a conversation, practice the following steps:
- Open yourself to being a self-less witness — Walk inside or out for ten to fifteen minutes with a quiet mind. Notice your world without your I getting in the way—what you think about what you see. Instead, just notice your experience. What makes you smile, feel curious, or open with gratitude? What colors and details pop out? What are you seeing that you didn’t see the last time you walked in this space? If thoughts enter your mind, let them float away, knowing you can come back to them later.
- Get present before you engage — Get comfortable, exhale fully, and feel relaxed but awake. As you breathe, feel the energy moving up and down the center of your body from your gut to the top of your head. Say and feel the word “curious” to yourself to open your mind. Then move your awareness out of your mind into your heart.
- Feel compassionately curious as you envision the person you will interact with — Smile as you think of the person and feel your smile open your heart. Breathe in the word “gratitude,” “compassion” or “care” (or love if you dare) and feel your heart expanding. Then, with an open heart, inhale deeply into your abdomen and say and feel the word, “courage.” Feel the strength from your center of your body. When you go into the conversation, see if you can experience the person with an open mind, an open heart, and a warm, open center.
Even with practice, you will always vacillate between thinking from your I and silencing it as you develop presence and awareness. When you feel the urge to defend your point of view, remember to relax, exhale and remind yourself you want them to feel seen, heard, and acknowledged, too.
When you fully connect with the human you are with, you are likely to not only get better results, but the time spent will be more satisfying. One of the greatest gifts you can give is to fully see, listen to, and appreciate the human being you are with.