As the sun disappeared and darkness crept into my room, my boyfriend, “Loneliness,” began to burn in my chest until he released himself as cool tears on my face.
When the morning arrived, I got up with the intention to sit down, meditate, clear my mind, and hopefully, wash my sense of Loneliness away. But it never happened.
Instead, more often than not, the morning rush would sweep me into a scurried waltz of answering phone calls and scuffling toward the door with one shoe in my hand.
In my free time, I would pursue Loneliness’s nemesis: connection. I looked for him at bars, restaurants, in the park as I ran, and around the corridors at work.
Perhaps, I was looking too hard? Maybe, if I would have stopped and taken a breath, I would have seen that connection, like my car keys, was right in front of me the whole time.
Until one day, I stumbled upon a scientific study conducted on a train in Chicago. It wasn’t connection, but I read it anyway.
The train study revealed magical insights around our morning commute—a journey that has had a long-standing reputation for being silent. We say nothing and avoid eye contact at all costs.
However, the results from that train in Chicago challenged our ¨business as usual¨ approach to commuting.
During the study, people were assigned to one of two groups: talking or silent. The results revealed that those who spoke on the train were significantly happier afterward, even introverts. Yet, everyday as we slough to work, we catch up on the news, scroll through social media, or pretend to sleep to avoid the discomfort of acknowledging the person sitting next to us.
Turns out, we think that the other person doesn’t want to talk to us in the morning—so we don’t talk to them.
Yes. That’s right. Our thoughts (and smartphones) are keeping us from happiness.
As I reflected on this study, a mindful practice arose in my life, and, to this day, the practice brings me back to being present with myself, connecting with the world, and coming to terms with my perceived loneliness.
The practice starts by saying two simple words, “Good morning.”
My past experience with these two words was bleak and not particularly genuine, to say the least. Some days, I would shout “Good morning” while keeping my eyes to the ground. By the time the other person replied with “Good…” I was already a block away.
Other times, I would mutter a reply as I assumed the other person never expected to hear it anyway.
On the worst days, I would say “Good morning” to the person in front of me, only to realize seconds later that the words came out as a reflex, and when I was met with a reply, my eyes widened, surprised at what I had started. Then, the next reflex fell out of my mouth: “How are you?” Before the other person could respond, I was swept away in the morning rush, cheapening the entire interaction.
Today, I throw away the concept of a quiet commute and practice mindfulness by saying “Good morning” with the power they were meant to behold.
It means saying “Good morning” because I sincerely hope it is a good one.
It means setting aside the thoughts in my head so that I can say “Good morning” from a place of grounded presence.
It means making eye contact and offering a smile that says we are in this morning shuffle together.
It means valuing and honoring the power of my words and being present with who I say them to.
It means holding space for the other person to meet me in the middle and reply fully.
It means, when asked, I reply with honesty and not a canned answer.
When we can say “Good morning” wholeheartedly, we become not only present with ourselves, but also unfailingly present with the world around us and the people we meet in the morning rush, otherwise known as our lives.
As the days went on, it seemed as if Loneliness had been washed away. He was gone and no longer came burning through my heart. However, at the root, nothing had changed.
I wasn’t snuggling a partner in my free time or grabbing dinner with a loved one. I still went to bed alone.
It wasn’t Loneliness that had left, but rather, I had moved beyond the world that continuously rattled on in my head—the world that had expectations beyond lonely. The world that told me I was going to be married by 30 and having kids by 32. Being present every morning to say “Good morning” got me out of my head. It got me out of that world.
By stepping away from my mind’s chatter, my eyes could finally see what was right in front of me. The faces in front of me were faces unclouded by the work I needed to finish or the deadlines I needed to meet. The conversations I had were conversations uninterrupted by thoughts of lunch or coffee or the heated pressure to complete my work.
We are not alone if we can escape the confines of our skulls and actively participate in life outside of our heads.
Pema Chödrön, says it like this:
“By renouncing his private world, the warrior discovers a greater universe and a fuller and fuller broken heart. This is not something to feel bad about; it is a cause for rejoicing.”
For me, my private world is my head, and the greater universe is the people around me.
By saying “Good morning” from a place of presence, we set aside our world—the judging, calculating, analyzing, worrying, and hunger—and we become present to what is right in front of us.
Loneliness, in its essence, brings us closer to each other. Loneliness enables us to strive to be outside of ourselves, not in search of something to fill the void, but rather to be present to the world.
We have the choice to slow down and genuinely connect with the people who are in front of us, and we owe it to ourselves to try. We owe it to ourselves to reclaim the power and genuineness of this simple greeting.
“Good morning” is a practice, and we don’t always get it right. But each morning, we get the opportunity to begin again with those two words.