The Encounter

At the end of August I granted myself a short retreat by the seaside, a five day stay away from everything and everyone, just Me-Time. I had been looking forward to it, as I usually deeply benefit from Me-Time. And I had a surprisingly hard time to get to the point where I could enjoy it. Fortunately, I had taken along my camera. So I went for long walks and captured images. I loved it, and I was glad with the images even on the bigger screen when scanning them at home.

I took the train home, and met a random (?) person with whom I had a very pleasant conversation. With no constraints of ego or role, I had the feeling of just being me and somehow it seemed to be just as comfortable for the other person. I asked myself whether this natural flow may have been fostered by my retreat? As I had deeply connected with myself, I could maintain this connection with no effort at all, even with a deep sense that it was important to just be me.

Yet this experience made me wonder: What does togetherness mean, when do I really experience it? And why do I look forward to being away from this togetherness?

I noticed that I have two extremely different experiences when meeting with people. At one extreme of this paradigm, I find occasions where meeting someone is mostly a moment where the other person’s story is at the center of the encounter. Somehow, this person uses my presence as a way to look in his or her own mirror, to better see him- or herself. At the other extreme of the same paradigm, I find occasions where meeting someone is mostly an occasion where I see more clearly who I am, usings that other person as a mirror to take a closer look at who I am.

Both are absolutely okay as they are, but they come with a drawback: energy flows in a single direction. This may result in one of the persons involved in the exchange being exhausted. And it often does.

So I decided to try and be aware of two directions in an encounter. For somehow I came up with the idea that a really fulfilling encounter is one that enables both persons to have a clearer view of themselves along with a real encounter with the other.

Since my return, Life was so kind to grant me various experiences of meeting both people I alread know, close or not, and new people I had the honour to get to know. So that gave plenty of material to practice my newly discovered awareness.

It is an amazing experience that teaches me deep truths about myself. It gives me the very fulfiling feeling of connecting at a much deeper level with the person I meet.

What does it take?

In the first place, to listen deeply and compassionately with the honest intention of really taking in the message of the other person. What is he or she telling me? What are his or her joys, pains, angers, fears, dreams? Can I listen without necessarily jumping in to tell him or her what to do, how to change? Just let the story be the story? Can I just take the words and their meaning in, and keep a non-judgemental attitude? If I sense judgement or any kind of emotional reaction, does this judgement tell more about me or about the other person? And what does it tell me about myself?

Second, I practice ‘turning around the perspective’. After looking, listening and feeling consciously from my point of view, I turn around my perspective in the inner processing of the encounter, and look at me from the other person’s eyes.

Somehow, this staying aware amidst a conversation results in a very calm and warm inner feeling. It brings me both real connection with the other person and real connection with myself, in a balanced distribution. Every encounter thus gave me the feeling of having both given and received a huge amount of energy. Furthermore, it reinforces the sense of connection that remains after hugging each other goodbye.

Now this may sound as though it is an effort, something planned or manipulated. It isn’t. The reflection on how I perceive encounters, the choice to approach them differently and the intent of being aware disappear backstage, yet they operate as if my system has been rewired.

I can look back on encounters from the past, and most of those I can label as “me looking for myself in that person’s mirror” or “that person looking for him/herself in my mirror”. Some of those where really exhausting, and I understand why now.

Hence my need for being alone. I craved alone time for an overload of one-way connections that result in an unexpressed feeling of disconnection with myself. Being alone was the only way, back then, to connect with myself. Now I love Me-Time, but this turned into time to nurture the real connections I carry along inside me. Raising my energy level does not require alone time anymore.

Of course, depending on the context of an encounter, the balance between ‘me’ and ‘you’ may vary. As a coach, for instance, the balance is rather on ‘you’. But still, staying deeply connected with me and making sure energy flows both ways is important, even in this working context.

This new way of meeting people is far more rewarding to me. Given the reactions I sense in the people I meet, I think it’s far more rewarding to the people I meet too…

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