Continuing to think about genuine connection, specifically about connection’s relationship to risk.
A few days ago I met up with friends to have dinner, some of which I had not seen in a long time. I was tired, having just come from a gathering that seemed like I should have been enjoying myself. I was also a bit grumpy from two hours of trying to talk myself into an experience I wasn’t having.
We met up at a funky restaurant with a jazz band that was squeezed tightly between the wall and my table. Every time I moved, I bumped the drummer, adding an unexpected improvisational novelty to her playing, that, oddly enough, neither of us enjoyed.
There we were all inside of this odd thing called “hanging out.” In keeping with the tradition we all sat and talked “about” stuff. We talked about this, talked about that, and…well…of course, about the other thing. As the about-ball was passed from one person to the next, the ball got heavier, and my ability to avoid the ball led to more improvisational novelty with my Jazz drummer friend (which she deeply appreciated).
I found myself not giving a shit about anything that I, or anyone, was talking about. As if wiggling awake from an uncomfortable dream I got present to my discontent, and, what looked to me, all of our discontent with what was happening.
Realizing this, I paused, took a deep breath, and made direct eye contact with my friend across from me. I said something like, “Here with you right now I’m feeling a tightness in my stomach imagining me looking stupid to you…but now as I am seeing your face looking surprised, but open, it occurs to me you may be feeling bored with this conversation as well. Now the tightness in my stomach is turning into a tickling sense of anticipation not knowing how you or anyone else will respond to me speaking this moment…” Then I asked, “Hearing this, what’s happening for you…?”
We went from passing the “about-ball” (which had gotten heavier with every pass) to disclosing our in-the-moment experience of being with each other, making everything gradually lighter with aliveness.
This led to a timeless two-and-a-half hours where everything from our deep unspoken past was revealed and deeply seen—hurt, attraction, appreciation, anger, love—as well as spontaneous psychic readings, pissing each other off, finding resolutions, and the meta level that was luminously present; our layered community history that made this conversation even possible.
Leaving that evening, I dropped the biggest tip I ever gave to a jazz band—it had been a great improv.
It’s seeming to me that the quality and depth of connection possible is directly proportionate to my ability to be open to risking *being known*. Risk what, though? I used to think it was risking not being liked and rejected, etc. But now I’m seeing that the real risk is not getting to know the other.
We usually think that in order to connect with someone I need to *be someone* in their eyes that is worthy of connecting with. So if being myself threatens that image, I will risk being seen as uncool. In the case with my long-lost friends, I found out we all were thinking our time together could be more than it was.
When I first shifted gears I felt an intense sense of risk as instead of talking *about* something, I shared my direct in-the-moment experience with my friend. The content of my experience was not risky to share. It was something about disclosing my experience as it directly related to the other. Intrinsic to this is revealing being impacted, and in some way changed, by this relationship in the present moment.
Driving home that night I felt a humming buzz of aliveness through my whole body. My heart was open, my soul deepened, my mind flowing with ideas and thoughts about my evening, and about what’s possible for all of us within and between every moment of connection with another.