Openhearted communications with strangers have been something of a theme these last few days, from "finding-this-weird-but-getting-used-to-it!" smiles from a respectful distance, to unexpectedly warm connections online.
In these days of social distancing, it is no longer appropriate to touch or even come close with most - or even all - others. I have been noticing, though, that eye-contact can express warmth and awareness of the other person. Physical contact can certainly be bonding and reassuring, but in its absence, a satisfying connection is still absolutely possible.
When I heard that the care home where my 95-year-old Mum lives had closed its doors to visitors, I found myself reflecting on whether it is possible to 'be with' someone, without physically being with them. My sense is that, surely, yes - that is in some way possible. While we can't exactly locate where love between human beings resides, we all know that connections of the heart are not ultimately about physical proximity.
Whether or not my Mum can intuit the good vibes coming her way in any given moment is impossible to know, though she certainly appreciates the fact that I bear her in my heart and mind.
On Mindful Compassion courses, we explore meditation practices for consciously cultivating a deeper sense of connection, not just with others but also, crucially, within ourselves. We can do this by encouraging responses of kindness and compassion, even in small ways. It's useful to notice any resistance that arises along the way as we explore these qualities of the heart. Our practice of compassion is likely to be far from perfect, requiring patience and persistence. We may have to acknowledge prejudices and resentments that we weren't even aware of. It's reasonable to expect that we won't transform into a beacon of love and light, all in one go!
In Loving-Kindness meditation, we actively cultivate a spirit of well-wishing.
We may call to mind someone who has been an inspiration or helped us: the so-called 'benefactor', which can be an effective 'warm-up' to cultivating kindness to ourselves - a stage that can sometimes feel difficult. We then move the focus to a good friend; to a person we don't know very well; to a person we are finding difficult - and finally extending the well-wishing as far as our imagination allows.
If you'd like to try this practice for yourself you can listen to the 'Kindness Meditation' at the end of this article.
There is an intrinsic power in giving our full attention to someone. It is not unusual, having focused on a particular person in this practice, to notice that the relationship feels different the next time one sees them. We may be more aware of what we appreciate about them or feel a softening towards someone with whom we have not been getting on. There may be greater ease, understanding and a better flow of communication. I have heard some people recount dramatic improvements in relations that had been difficult for many years.
What happens in the privacy of our hearts and minds has concrete effects in the world.
One powerful way to have a beneficial effect on others, paradoxically, is to consciously cultivate positive emotions within ourselves.