I am, without question, a creature of habit. There is a place in Central Park where I sit on weekend mornings and do a lot of the writing that shows up here as weekly practices. Because I’m pretty much a regular during seasons that encourage being outdoors, I have come to know others who are also regulars on weekend mornings. One man who works at the restaurant in the park comes by each weekend morning and we have a bit of a chat. One morning, because it rained the day before, he mentioned that he missed seeing me on his way to work…As he said goodbye and went on, I reflected on how it has come to mean a lot to me to have these small interactions with people I otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to know.
Another man, whom I’ve now known over probably 20 years, pretty regularly crosses my path on the way to work as he goes toward the East Side of the park and I go toward the West Side. We’ve had many conversations along the way and, over the years, we’ve evolved to the point where we now have a morning hug and a kiss on each cheek as we walk by each other. Also, a woman and I, someone I’ve written about in other practices, passed one another in a similar way also for about 20 years, until she retired. I remember the morning she stopped to tell me she was going to stop working and she didn’t want me to worry about her when I didn’t see her in the mornings anymore. It was a very sweet gesture, as I certainly would have wondered what happened to her. When she and I ran into each other unexpectedly about six years later, we found ourselves having the same kind of brief catch-up chat we sometimes had in our years of passing each other on our respective journeys to work.
I also have developed a sense of connection to certain trees I pass each morning as I walk through Central Park. Whether I stop to touch them or not on any given morning, seeing and acknowledging them each day elicits a sense of connection and I find that my heart space enjoys these brief moments of “saying hello”.
What these experiences bring to mind is how important and powerful it is to be open to connect to the people and the world around us, and how important these connections can come to feel. With all the gadgets we carry with us these days, it can be increasingly challenging to connect with people, nature, our animal friends with so many of us buried in our smart phones as we go from here to there.
For this week’s experiment, I invite you to notice the people (or other beings) with whom you have regular encounters during the course of your everyday life. Pay particular attention this week to how it feels if you take a few moments more than you usually do to say hello, to connect in some way other than a brief nod or passing glance. And, if you tend to have your gadget out and on as you walk, notice what happens if you put it away for portions of your comings and goings and, instead, focus on your environment and on the people and places you pass that offer some sense of connection.
Be sure to notice any mixed feelings if you are willing to play with putting gadgets away for a bit of time. I remember a colleague of mine, Larry Rosen, in his interview on 60 Minutes. He’s done research on the addictive properties of our gadgets and said that we’re now programmed to become anxious if we don’t check in with our smart phones for more than 10 minutes. I invite you to play with this, as well. If you’re willing to put away your gadgets and be present to people and your environment for 10 minutes, notice what happens when you do that. My hope is that you will discover that the sense of connection with others and with the world around you will offer its own source of nourishment and sense of well-being that can make it worthwhile to orient toward connection in the ways this practice suggests.
As with all these practices, there’s not really a “right” way to do this one. Rather, it’s another opportunity to notice how your moment-to-moment choices add to, or detract from, your sense of well-being and the quality of your inner life. Be sure to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to pat on the head any judgments that may arise, allowing them to move on through.