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Have you ever been in a situation where someone looked miserable, discouraged, mad, or somehow they just annoyed you? Have you then asked yourself, what is their problem or… why can’t they merely enjoy life instead of being such a “downer”? Well, in all honesty, I have (once or twice ;). Whether it’s someone in traffic who is honking and swearing or someone in the market who’s zooming past everyone with an angry look on his or her face, it can be easy for me to fall into judgment about them. The problem though (as if there is only one), is that I’m in no position to judge. I have no idea what’s going on their world. They could be having one of the worst days (or months) of their lives. In fact, there’s even a chance I’ve been that person (once or twice ;) and it’s funny how the perspective changes when the shoe’s on the other foot.

Anyway, this concept really hit home when I was on an airplane a few weeks back. I was sitting next to a woman who looked dismal and barely even acknowledged me, and from my perspective, looked like she could care less that anybody else even existed. I tried to make eye contact and shoot her a smile a couple of times and then decided to read my book. We sat in silence for almost the entire flight and I had forgotten about her for the most part, but there was still something that was troubling me. Why did she have to be so cold, I thought to myself? Why was I getting caught up in it? Again, other personal issues come to mind. Maybe it was my own fear or insecurity or even my projection on how others “should” act towards other people. But this is another story for another time.

Eventually, we began talking.  At first it was small talk but the conversation soon shifted… big time. I was shocked and humbled when she shared the devastating news that she had lost her husband unexpectedly a few weeks earlier as a result of a bicycle accident. He had been in a coma for quite some time and she had to make the inconceivably difficult decision to take him off life support (based on his living will). I personally can’t envision many circumstances that would be more challenging to go through than this. Unless, maybe, having to explain to your 6 year old child why her father is no longer with us, which was in fact, another part of her story.

I can’t imagine the pain that she was going through. It is literally outside of my capacity at this point in time. The one thing that I could do was simply to be there with and for her. The result was a connection on a level that I had never before experienced with a complete stranger. We shared tears, fears, smiles, love, and a deep appreciation for life and its fragility. Our conversation affected me in a way that I could never have imagined as we opened up to each other. It pretty much threw me right out of my box! It was a night I won’t soon forget.

What I realized, beyond what I just wrote about, was that my inability to get out of my own head sometimes severely shifts my energy and the energy of those around me in a negative way. Having a negative relationship to life (however subtly) causes me to make assumptions about others that may be way off-base, and that sometimes lead me to respond with coldness. The coldness can spread like a subtle disease to those around me, creating walls upon walls upon walls. I see this a lot these days. You know what I’m talking about, right? We are the ones who create it. It’s not them. Them doesn’t exist. We’re in it together and we can change our experience and enrich the lives of those around us just by being open and empathetic. Imagine a world in which everyone’s first response to others is from love rather than putting up these walls that keep us from experiencing true connection.

Obviously, this is a pretty extreme example of the experience others are having, but this type of thing is happening around us all of the time, albeit on a lesser scale. Maybe the other person was just fired, dumped, diagnosed with an illness, up all night with their child having nightmares, or is simply having a bad day. I’ve noticed this can even happen in small, seemingly insignificant situations with friends. I’ve made assumptions or thought the worst about what’s going on with friends and maybe I’ve even acted on those assumptions. Scary huh? I do this more often than I’d like to think, and I bet I’m not the only one. So I’m asking myself: Why not open up rather than close down? What if I consciously decide to come from a place of not knowing and not assuming? There’s really no down side, and I’m much more likely to find what’s real and to connect on a much deeper level… because doing this seems to magically create space for the heart to enter the picture. And, this is a good place to be when choosing to respond… with feminine or masculine compassion.

Imagine moving through the world with the notion that each person we run into could use our help instead of focusing on how their negativity is affecting us. Imagine that we have the power to change their day or even their life. What I realized in a new way from that experience on the plane is that we do. I found that all I have to do is drop my judgment and my assumptions and listen from the heart. It’s actually quite simple and yet, can be one of the most difficult things to do at times.

In love and gratitude…

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