I don’t remember exactly when I learned to start avoiding eye contact with people on the street. Was it after the cat calls I received in high school? Did it blossom taking city transit to and from school every day? Or was it when we were warned not to engage with homeless people during my college orientation in downtown Manhattan?
All I know is that it was a message I heeded. This lesson was aided by the invention of the iphone, which put tons of music, skip free, in my pocket right around the time I entered college.
With headphones and with (or without) music, public became private again.
And that’s the funny thing about New York City – it’s SO jam packed with people that your personal space extends to the outdoors and you learn to ignore the people. You have important discussions in parks, cry on the subway, or sing out loud as you walk down the street, because it seems less bothersome to do it there than in your apartment where your roommate is sleeping.
But as I’ve been exploring the heart chakra, I wonder about what effect that energy cut off has had to my actual personal relationships. I remember growing up thinking that I was exceptionally good at picking up on how a person was feeling. I would understand if they were a little sad, frustrated, or nervous through their physical and energetic cues. But over the years, those signals have gotten a little more jammed. Just like I learned to not make eye contact when I get on the subway, I learned to ignore subtle signals in people around me if I didn’t have the time or energy bandwidth to deal with the problem.
Now, if you’ve met met in person, I don’t think you’d think I was a callous, emotionless robot. I know how to reach out, to connect, to love, to empathize. But there are times when I wish I could understand a bit more. I wish that I could experience that same “ah-ha!” of knowing exactly what a person needs that I used to feel years ago.
So I’ve been thinking about how to improve and expand that heart chakra ability to connect to others.
In the process, I realized something important and necessary when thinking about the heart chakra: this connection is a one-way street. What I mean is – it’s not required for your feelings of connection to be reciprocated in order to feel them yourself.
This realization allowed me to settle in and relax into my mission. It took away some of the fear. Learning to connect with the heart chakra is not about trying to make the world love me back. I don’t need to have someone say “hi” to me on the street in order to acknowledge them and their humanity. And, I don’t have to put myself in situations that do feel dangerous – making eye contact or smiling at people who I don’t feel safe around.
In “How to Fight” by Thich Nhat Hanh, he writes
“Breathing with awareness, peace comes naturally…Just by practicing awareness of your breathing, the person you are having difficulty with may not notice that there is a change taking place in you. Although you have not yet reopened communication or started the process of making peace with the other person, your peaceful energy has already had an effect on them.”
In this passage, Thich Nhat Hanh is specifically talking about situations of conflict, but the same is true of any interaction with other humans. When you approach it with your own peaceful energy, and your own knowledge that you and the other human are not so very different, you get to feel connected. Hopefully the other person gets a piece of those positive vibes and feels more connected too, but on a personal level, the work has been done. You have acknowledged the other’s humanity. You get those heart chakra benefits and good vibes.
I will admit, I’ve been scared of taking that energy in before. I can feel things pretty deeply, and sometimes, I shut things out for my own protection. But that armor also came from a false belief that feeling things was bad. Or that I would feel hopeless, defenseless, and unable to aid the situation in front of me.
With time, maturity, learning, I’ve realized that I don’t have to be afraid of getting lost to my sorrow. Brene Brown in “Daring Greatly” talked about this fear as a major barrier to expressing vulnerability and our range of emotions. But instead, we can trust in our own spirit. We can remember that our sense of connection, authenticity, and humanity are important parts of the solution. We can be compelled to action, no matter how small, to help the cause.
And I think that’s the secret for me of feeling heart chakra connection: I have to trust that I can handle it. That I can feel the human connection with a homeless person and not become hopeless myself. That I can experience the vast range of energy and emotion in front of me and stay rooted in my own power.
Connection can be a one-way street. It can be a silent affirmation of another’s humanity. You can connect with your boundaries intact. And in the process, you can feel your heart and spirit blossom.
Samantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human. Sam is a performance coach and yoga instructor who helps people eat, move, and live with intention. Learn more here.