I have been wary recently of the question posed so often throughout any day of “How are you?” I wonder how many people receive the question in the way I wish to ask it. Much of the time, the query and the answer are rote, automatic, without even a pause to feel into the question being asked. I am certain that my own habituation has produced this empty question and its rote reply on many an occasion, but mostly these days, I am sincere in the investigation. What is beautiful to me is that if we are sincere in our quest for connection, to self and to other, and if we stick around to listen to what comes after the automatic responses, there can be a world of rich humanness waiting for us to hear its voice.
I am awed by others’ moments of truth speaking. At times I witness these moments when friends share their successes, their joys found in love, in travel, in creativity or in the pursuit of a goal. Other times I am privileged to witness others’ truths when I hear about their efforts brought forth into fruition, or about their amazing discoveries of personal growth. What is interesting to me is that in these people’s moments of joy, there is also room for vulnerability, for fear, for insecurity. And not so many folks speak of these other felt experiences that can accompany life, and even be a companion to joy. Many times, I am humbled to hear of the very tender places that people go, in relationship to these very same inspiring experiences listed above.
We are all traveling along our paths, at differing speeds, with differing intentions, differing gifts to express, and with different circumstances surrounding it all. For some, the uncomfortable places are more familiar, and so for me it is a gift to hear them speak of their sparkle, if only trying on such self-presentation for a moment. For others, there is only talk of goodness, of perfection, of what is perhaps deemed a Self more “acceptable” to present to others. To those folks I listen intently and with a compassionate ear, so that if and when they are ready to share what might hurt, or sting, or feel messy, they know I will accept them just the same. And so that they might embrace what it feels like to be as they are!
In my pursuit of the answers to the question, “How are you?” I thus hold a deep appreciation for honesty. When I ask a question and there is not a simple answer, I understand. Sometimes the simple two word answer, “Im OK” is the best we can do, and oftentimes it is the most appropriate answer to this question that is so often unanswerable. For if we do speak from our most authentic place, we might just turn out to be an “everything salad” (one of the things I make best!)! We might simultaneously be in awe of life’s blessings, in a place of gratitude for our own abundance; and yet we might also feel the vulnerabilities of life. And it is all of these that are worthy of being heard, by all of us.
When I ask myself, “How are you?” my own vulnerabilities, within my own everything salad, present to me my Self, a woman in my mid-thirties, who is asking questions like, What am I actually doing with this Master’s degree that I now owe a chunk of change on? Will I learn that it is alright if someone does not receive my offerings in the ways that I would want them to? Am I ready to meet myself as I am? Will I be able to diminish the incessant fears that I need to know more to actually matter in this world? Will I come to find equanimity in the teachings offered to me in this lifetime, and the sweet, yet at times challenging, lessons on my path? How might I serve another best? Can my small contributions really help?
As these questions arise, do I myself have the courage to listen for the space that follows? After all, this is the practice that I teach, daily, to my children, my students, my clients, my sisters…
At present I do find that while my own questions still arise, I am listening more. In the same ways in which I practice holding space for others, I am continually holding space for myself. My daily practices of meditation, of inquiry, of yoga, have given me a little more space to listen. And I have learned that when I listen to what’s inside, the answers do not always reveal themselves in words or with resolution, but with a feeling, a flavor, a silence, a sacred pause.
Sometimes I ride the wave and say thank you for my unique path– I mean really, how many people have a 10 year old with such a specialness about her, who smiles for her own secret reasons and who, regardless of the “Why is Ruka smiling?”question, if you catch that big toothed grin your heart soars, and you can feel the meaning of life with a vast perspective? How many people get to laugh about that same big girl acting as a cooling agent as she drools on you, and since it is above 90 degrees you do not really mind! And how many people get to then witness that big special girl’s younger brother, who understands and verbalizes, quite eloquently, a love for all beings, whatever their uniquenesses!
Toward a direction of listening and accepting who we are, where we are, and how we are, then, doesn’t it make sense that we might consider connecting with other beings as well, and ask them questions, and then listen to their stories, whether those stories come with facial expressions, with silence, with words? And doesn’t it make sense that we might consider a practice, welcoming those other beings to share, with honesty, their strengths and their warrior ways, their beauty, their struggles, their fears? How can the inclusivity of our tired selves, and our darker places, become just as worthy as being heard as our shining moments, and our best pictures, such as we put forward on social media sites?
Can we can make it a practice to continually ask the questions, to ourselves and to others, and then to listen to the space that follows, both inside ourselves and coming toward us from others? In that exploration, can we practice acceptance and compassion? Are we courageous enough to give attention to some of the more difficult aspects of our selves and of others, including coping mechanisms, habits, and patterns that may be a bit out dated? Are there parts of ourselves and of others that we hesitate to become intimate with? How do we navigate a situation when someone else’s issues have an effect on us or when we feel discomfort of another’s unconscious energies, or actions? As we practice sitting with our questions, then, perhaps we are growing ourselves toward our highest Selves.
Are we willing to move beyond right and wrong and into places of authenticity, with ourselves and with others? Are we ready to ask ourselves and those around us the simple question of “How are you?” with a willingness to hear what comes next?……