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Mindful : August 2016
70 mindful August 2016 A few years ago, a client of mine—we’ll call her Elise—moved to San Francisco and signed up for a dance class so she could meet new people. But after several weeks she told me she wasn’t having luck connecting with any of the people in the class. Then one day her dance instructor asked her why she always showed up late for class and left right at the end. This was an “aha” moment for Elise: She realized that although she was “putting herself out there,” she really wasn’t making herself available for friendship, specifi- cally by not being present for those key moments when connection might happen: before and after class. As we discussed why she might be doing that, she acknowledged that she felt anxiety in her body whenever we talked about her meeting people. When an opportu- nity did arise for her to make a connection, she would get stuck in her head. She also worried she wouldn’t know what to say or how to act during unstructured moments. And let’s face it: Meeting new people can be awkward. We want to be able to say the right thing, sound clever, seem smart and informed. Somewhere deep inside we all know we won’t “click” with everyone, but that doesn’t stop us from getting trapped in our thoughts about why. I began working with Elise to help her feel at home in her own body. Because the more you understand your emotions and reactions, the more authentic you will be with others—and authenticity is an attractive quality. Then you can practice being present with others, just as you are, with kindness and compassion toward yourself. Here are four things you can do to cultivate awareness and trust in yourself, which will ultimately help you trust and connect with others: Let yourself connect. Notice your breath. Then notice what you’re feeling. If you are anxious, grumpy, or unsettled, just acknowl- edge it without judgment. As you accept yourself and your feelings as they are, you naturally relax so that you’re not absorbed by those feel- ings. Breathe deeply into your belly. Imagine meeting some new people that you really like. Picture yourself laughing with them. Recognize that connec- tion wants to happen, even repeating to yourself, “Con- nection wants to happen if I let it.” Feel your feet on the floor. Send a kind thought out into the world and then receive that kind thought back. Make room for your nervousness. How do you feel about trust? Sit with that question for a bit and pay attention to how your body responds. Do you notice any tightness, knots, shrugs, jitters? These tiny inner sen- sations are there for a reason. And you can notice and acknowledge them, before you have to act on them. If you feel uneasy about trusting people, be kind to yourself about that. Picture yourself responding to the world with confidence, knowing that unease is part of you, too. Zoe Gerlach, MFT, has dedicated more than 15 years to helping people develop meaningful and satisfying relationships. You say you want to make genuine connections, but your actions may speak otherwise. Are You Pushing People Away? Illustration by Sébastien Thibault Cultivate curiosity. We’re naturally curious. Watch any child play and you’ll see that’s true. You can embody curios- ity by approaching the people you meet with authentic awareness. Relax your body and roll back your shoulders. Take a risk: Ask a question. Engage your sense of wonder and you may be surprised that your anxiety about meeting people has taken a backseat to your curiosity about who you’re talking to. Choose positive relation- ships. Notice the people who are making themselves available to you. That doesn’t mean you should settle for spending time with people you don’t find interesting. But don’t spend your energy seeking out connections with people who aren’t available. (Most likely their distance has nothing to do with you.) Our bodies react more strongly to negative stim- uli than to positive, so we’re predisposed to focus on those relationships. And yet when we feel rejected, we can blind our- selves to all the love that does exist in our lives. Keep all this in mind and continue to mindfully choose love and connection over fear and rejection. ● practices on relationships