How much time and effort do we put into building strong and deep connections?
Whether it is relating to a parent, spouse, neighbor, co-worker or friend, there is always room to grow in the capacity to receive the other, becoming more available, attentive, loving and compassion- ate. Learning to readily and easily engage and respond from the heart, accessing our emotions, allows trust to form and previously established ties to be strengthened.
What are some qualities that lend themselves to connecting with others at the heart level?
- Attentiveness: This describes a posture of heart that is other-centered, reverent and attentive to another. Intentionally putting aside my own interests, mood or motives, I offer myself to another person by way of presence—being there for them—and listening in a way that shows I under- stand what they are feeling. I think of topics that might be of interest to this person. It can be helpful to ask open-ended questions and then to give others the space and time to unhurriedly share what they are thinking or feeling. Pay attention to their responses, to body language and to the emotions that are described or evoked.
- Empathy: To express empathy, first I have to get in touch with my own emotions and give myself permission to feel what the person before me is describing and feeling. I am not this person, and may never have been in their situation; however, I can use my memory and imagination, to unite myself to them with my heart. As St. Paul exhorted us to weep with those who weep and rejoice with the rejoicing, I join them in feeling what they are feeling, whether it be grief or anger, joy or excitement. And to be sure I truly understand what they are feeling, I check in with them, “That seems so painful,” or “How frustrating!” or “You must have been ecstatic!” This can also help someone to put words to their experience, feel supported, or work through it.
- Delight: St. Therese said, “Every artist likes his work to be admired, and so does God, our Creator!” This is what we are doing in essence. It begins with looking for someone’s innate goodness and beauty and receiving it as a gift. As if holding up a mirror, with the eyes of love, I want to reflect back what I see, that this person may come to see and experience being delighted in for his or her own goodness and beauty. This is not imagining or pretending that this person may be good deep down somewhere…but I allow myself to be moved by a real good I perceive. By accepting another as they are, I affirm that they are worth my time, attention and care—it is food for the heart. It allows people to accept themselves, and also gives them the courage and inspiration to become their best self.
- Solidarity: This is a choice made in love, recognizing that life is a journey, enhanced by its companions and their mutual support, encouragement, and inspiration. It is a decision to become another’s ally, committing myself to them in solidarity. It’s theme song is, “He ain’t heavy… he’s my brother!” It is humbling both to rely on another, and to be stretched in the gift of self, but it is in making a gift of ourselves that we find at our core what is most pure and beautiful. It requires patience, honesty, hope and perseverance. Sharing life side by side, hand in hand, this is the element of relationships that makes sturdy what is shaky, and brings interior healing and peace in its wake.
Originally printed in IMPRINT Magazine Winter 2014