Humans are social animals so we long to connect with others. 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.
Are we doomed to disconnect?
To survive, our healthy human brains are constantly affirming who we are and how we interpret the world around us. Even though our brains are adding to and editing our ongoing narrative as we go through life, we maintain a strong sense of who we think we are and how the world should be. This sense of self directs our actions, decisions, judgments, and emotional reactions. We go about our days directed by our sense of “I.”
Inherent in I is a separation from others. You and We exist as configurations created from I. When I is present in a conversations, there is no real sense of Us.
In 1996, neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s stayed conscious while having a stroke and was able to give a gift to the world by describing her experience. Her stroke caused her to lose the ability to interact with her sense of self. Her chatty brain defining herself went silent. She had no sense of self, of time, and of her existence as separate from the world around her. Her sense of self disappeared but she still had a sense of being alive. When she recovered, she was able to describe the incredible sense of oneness she experienced when she lost her sense of self.
Even though her experience was profound, loosing all sense of self is not sustainable. 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.
Beyond conversation, there is the possibility of momentary experiences of oneness with another human. Two people can lose themselves when composing something together, whether creating a piece of music or another human being.
Can you remove your I when listening to someone?
Experiencing someone to the fullest when in conversation—to feel their existence, their struggles, their desires, and their yearnings—requires you let go of I. With practice, you can quiet your I to allow a deep connection with the person you are with. If even for a few minutes, you can let go so the person feels you are wholly present, that you see, hear, and understand him or her fully. Your connection and the results will be remarkable.
A first step to feeling a profound connection with someone is to lose the needs to be right, to be respected, to be liked, 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 you worry they won’t like you or the conversation is not going how you expected, muster the courage to let it go and just 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.
As you get better at the first step, you can move into releasing your I for longer periods of time.
RELEASING YOUR “I” EXERCISE: Try walking around for 20 minutes with no thoughts, just noticing the sights, sounds, and smells around you. See if you can notice things and people as if you had never seen them before. What do you notice? What colors and details pop out? What events and people make you smile? There is so much you miss when your I leads you through life.
RELEASING YOUR “I” IN CONVERSATION: Before your next conversation, relax your body and clear your mind. Say and feel the word “curious” to yourself to open your mind. Then move your awareness out of your mind into your heart. Think of someone or something you deeply care about and feel your smile open your heart. Say and feel 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.
In actuality, even with practice, you will always vacillate between thinking from your I and releasing it as you develop presence and awareness. When you feel the urge to defend your point of view or to save the person from feeling uncomfortable, remember to relax, exhale and remind yourself you want them to feel seen, heard, and acknowledged before anything else.
Try releasing your I before your next conversation. 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. Remember, people want you to be present more than they need you to be perfect.
One of the greatest gifts you can give is to fully see and listen to the human being you are with.