There’s Hidden Power in Giving Your Full Attention

What the Dalai Lama can teach us about reconnecting

Photo: Creative Commons

This past year has brought a universal experience of struggle, one that looks different depending on who you ask. The cascading effects of COVID, social injustice, political strife, and climate change are just a few of the biggest stressors making this year feel like a marathon we did not willingly sign up for. Article after article, book after book, tell us how disconnected we are, physically and emotionally, and how this lack of social connection is insidiously impacting our wellbeing. We want to feel connected. We want to stop feeling alone on this marathon. But most people you talk to or interact with have experienced waves of exhaustion that leave them with little energy to do more than the bare minimum.

So what do we do? This is the big question that we take on in our new book Missing Each Other: How to Cultivate Meaningful Connections. In the book, we explore the fundamental elements of human connection, how we can develop these elements in ourselves, and how we can bring them to our daily interactions.

Here’s something we can start with. We reach out. We find someone we know and ask them, “How are you?” We do so with the initial intent to truly understand their experience rather than to unload on them about our own.

Role models for this kind of relating can help. It’s something that the Dalai Lama does exceptionally well. As a Buddhist monk and spiritual leader to millions, he’s understandably a busy person who probably meets countless people per day (at least pre-COVID). Yet he seems consistent in his approach to social interaction. By many reports, His Holiness has an off-the-charts capacity to focus his complete attention in a warm, kind way on people he talks with one-on-one.

The late Meditation teacher and author, Michael Stone, once met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and spoke to him for no more than 8 minutes. “When you’re with him, he gives you full attention…he’s totally tuned in. There’s no platitudes.” Stone left the conversation feeling like “I can love way better than the way that I love.” That kind of connection he describes is so rare these days that it can seem like a miracle.

What’s remarkable about that story is that Stone was experiencing a personal battle with depression at the time of that conversation. And in the midst of personal pain and struggle, Stone found inspiration for how he could show love better to others. Feeling that connection inspired him to reach out — a cascading effect that we could all benefit from right now.

Our challenge for you is to notice the next time you’re craving a tuned-in connection. Instead of waiting or wishing for it to happen, try your best to channel that energy into reaching out to someone else. With whole-hearted intention, we promise you’ll find a return on investment.

At the same time, leave room for error and space for grace. We probably won’t get to the level of the Dalai Lama immediately. But we can take steps in the direction of learning how to relate to one another. Our capacity to pay attention to one another, to get on the same wavelength, are skills that can be strengthened, like a muscle. And we’ll show you exactly how in this blog.

We’re just getting started.

Note from the Authors: Ashley Pallathra and Edward Brodkin share their views here for educational and informational purposes only. The views expressed in this blog are not a substitute for individualized psychological, psychiatric, or medical care from a clinician familiar with your specific circumstances.

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