Sometimes I like to watch popular TV shows.
In some ways they give me a read of where we are as a culture, what issues are important and the way in which we relate to one another.
The other day I was watching a certain show in which one of the main characters’ boyfriend had just been killed literally the day before. She was grieving that loss and one of her close friends was with her to provide comfort.
This close friend had, surprise surprise, previously lost her husband a while ago, who was also killed.
So when the main character was expressing what it felt like for her in the moment to know he was gone, her friend expressed how she could understand… and then, horrifyingly to me, began to talk about her own experience of this.
The camera moved to this woman, ignoring the original griever, as she closed her eyes and relived the event talking about how she still misses him yet has to go on.
I bring this up because I notice this being presented as a feature of relating all too often. One person has an experience and the other, listening sympathetically, is able to resonate with that having had their own similar experience and often unknowingly yanks the attention away and onto themselves.
The result is a swimming-on-the-surface of connection and competing for the attention of the conversation. It becomes like a tennis match where each person waits for the other so they can share their version of the story.
I don’t see any ill intent in this sympathetic response to another, if anything I acknowledge a genuine desire to connect, yet it is through a poorly informed framework for how to cultivate true closeness with another.
We aren’t taught these things and our only role models have been those around us as we grow through our life, and they were taught as little or even less than us.
I see clearly how this expression of resonance for anthers story, having had a similar experience myself, is a desire to create a shared human experience. It is a sharing of, “I know what you are going through as I have been there myself.”
There is a natural urge for many of us to comfort someone who is suffering, or share in their excitement. Most of us do want closeness, and as scary as deep intimacy can be sometimes, we crave it.
What I have found though, time and time again, is that this sympathetic response takes the connection away from gaining more depth and closeness.
If, as a response to my share, you begin to relate your own story then regardless of your intent I am no longer receiving your presence. While the desire to have a shared experience may be your intent, what happens instead is you are not connecting to my actual experience in the moment, rather your connection is with your memory of your experience and the imagined similarity to mine.
We may be able to agree that in many ways our stories are similar and we both know what it feels like but we never actually get to share in that experience with each other and a gateway for potentially deeper intimacy is passed by.
Being present with another is a detour from the habitual and unconscious ways of relating we may have adopted since childhood. Like meditation or yoga, when we consistently continue to bring our awareness back here to what is happening in this moment, right now, so too is this possibility available within relationship to another.
When I am with a lover, friend, family, acquaintance or someone I just met and they are sharing something meaningful or important to them I can give them the biggest gift I can—the gift of my presence.
I can drop the stories my mind wants to make, the urges to give advice, comfort, share my own similar stories, and everything else to simply be with them as they are whole and complete. Whether I have a similar story or not is somewhat irrelevant to what is happening for them right now, and if I become present enough so that it can wash over me for a moment I may experience a glimpse of what it is like to be them.
I can share and participate in the unique magnificence of their being in this world and I can allow it to impact and move me. I can bring my presence to them so fully that they naturally open, that they can show up even more as who they are like a sunrise gaining in intensity every second of a new day.
In this moment it’s not about me, I don’t need the attention and there is no fear of insignificance just because there is currently no focus on me.
The opportunity to be with you is too precious to miss and my story happened at some point in the past, yours is here right now.
Give the gift of your presence freely.
The more presence we practice and give, the more we will have.
It is a gift that accumulates through the very giving of it.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emily Bartran