Let’s not ask: “How are you?”…if we don’t mean it.

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“How are you,” s/he asked, walking by me. I didn’t bother to respond. What she meant was, “Hi, I know you, but I’m in a rush or I don’t care about you that much and I’m going to keep walking.”


“How are you?”

Don’t do it.

Don’t say “how are you” when we mean “Hi, I’m walking past you.”

Or, do it.

Ask “how are you,” and stand, facing directly, not half facing (as I do so often) and half (mentally) already going. Ask “how are you” and listen deeply.

Today I was riding my bicycle, momentarily deeply lost in thought, sadness, confusion…it was a sunny beautiful day and the ride itself woke me out of my fog…but not before two cyclists passed me, waved, I waved back, and thought to myself “I look happy, healthy…they have no idea either of them what is going on in my mind right now or my life over the last 9 months”…and then, waking up out of my pointless reverie, I thought: I’ve been gifted with a good mom, the practice of meditation, good food, a safe happy town…and yet I’m suffering. Imagine how much others suffer.

So next time, if I say “how are you,” know that I want to know. And do it yourself: let’s remember: we have no idea how much our fellow sister or brother is going through.

Be kind for everyone you meet is facing a great battle ~ Plato



Relephant: The Importance of Tonglen. ~ Ty Phillips

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About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


11 Responses to “Let’s not ask: “How are you?”…if we don’t mean it.”

  1. Andréa Balt says:

    I like the “facing directly” part. Looking someone in the eye and letting them be, a forgotten art. Yesterday I met up with someone who looked straight into my eyes the entire time we were talking. It felt so good. Now that we know how to breathe, somebody please teach us how to listen. Maybe we should do more staring contests.

  2. warriorsaint says:

    Andrea: you are on to something. Somewhere we have lost a basic human skill. How many times have we sat in a group of friends where EVERYONE is texting or cell phone talking to someone not even in the room? It's as if we were standing in front of someone, ignoring them, and insisting on having a conversation with someone standing behind us.
    Remove the technology and this is what is happening.

    Most of us need human contact. Remember the wire monkey mothers experiment you learned about in HS? Given food, water, and physical warmth a monkey will exhibit failure to thrive if not warmly cuddled.
    So.. turn off the phone, given the dog a new bone,power down the laptop, tune off the TV, park the bike/car/surfboard/mototcycle/running shoes and spend an afternoon in the company of a special other human(s) that nourish you. When left alone with our thoughts is when the mischief happens. Rumination takes over. Stop thinking-that's what happens during meditation.

  3. Mary says:

    Sincere communication in an increasingly complex world. I appreciate the reminder.

  4. As a yoga teacher I think this is very important. If we ask – how are you? – be prepared to listen. And the part about not knowing what others are going through – so important for yoga teachers to hold the space for all students. At any given time I can have someone in my class someone who is going through a divorce, recovering from surgery, dealing with grief of losing a loved one, considering leaving a job, a sick child….. I could go on and on. As fellow citizens (taking it out of my yoga studio scenario), same thing – we never know what others are going through – a smile, a wave, a hello – a contact in some way may remind others they are not alone…..
    Thanks, Way.

  5. This is huge… I had the gift of a friend who truly asked this, with eye contact, and listened. And listened some more. Now when I ask, I really want to know. And I try to look at acquaintances as whole people and not assume how great they have it – we all have wonderful things in our lives, but we all suffer too.

  6. Linda Lewis says:

    Dzongsar Khyentse R. says most of us in the West only experience "bourgeois suffering". That comment really put whatever suffering I may encounter into perspective for me. Now it's easier to say "Fine, thanks!" as a response to that question and not burden anyone with my little concerns. I have a roof over my head and food to eat. My job is decent and of benefit. I so wish the same for those starving in Africa or under water in Louisana or recovering from the recent earthquake in the Philippines or those suffering the loss of homeland and culture in what was former Tibet. I wish they all had shelter, food, and care and that they could enjoy the freedoms and rights that we do.

  7. […] like to answer all my phone calls and mean the how-are-yous and not save my honesty until all the good-byes have been sentenced over my wireless […]

  8. Kristin says:

    Every once in awhile when greeting a table of customers (at the restaurant where I work) I will receive a response along the lines of "I'll have a coke". It frustrates me to no end. My response is usually a more assertive repeating of the question & stating that I really do care. People are (generally) so embarrassed that they didn't have the decency to even look up from their screen to acknowledge another human being speaking to them… sad state of affairs these days…

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