Today at the store the young man behind the counter isn’t uber-friendly; he doesn’t ask about how I plan to prepare the kale sprouts and he doesn’t tell me how much he loves my scarf. He just scans my items, and asks if I found everything. As he hands me my receipt, he looks me in the eyes, gives me a warm smile, and thanks me. I look at him, too. I smile, wish him well, and I am on my way.
This afternoon, I am working in my office and Frank comes through between appointments to tell me what is going on in his day and to say goodbye since I won’t see him between my class and his poker game. He talks to me and tells me things and I am listening and responding but I am also on the computer and looking for things on my desk and not really focusing on him. He gives me a quick kiss and he is on his way.
This evening, I am getting ready for class. I pick out my favorite bell-bottom-y pants and complicated red top. As I am wriggling into the outfit, I catch myself in the big mirror over my dresser. “Oh girl,” I think. “Maybe you’re getting too old to be wearing these clothes. Look at your arms, your neck, your back. You’re a good teacher, but maybe it’s time to invest in some long sleeves.” I pull down the hem of my shirt smartly, take a deep breath, and I am on my way.
There is no such thing as a neutral interaction* with another or with yourself.
Everybody brings something to every relationship, whether it is a passing one with a stranger, a life-long one with a beloved, or an emotional one with a chronic injury.
Think of the last conversation you had with someone. Think of the last chat you had with yourself in your head. What did you bring to it? What did you say? Where did you put your attention? Did you want to teach something? Were you kind? Were you encouraging? How did you feel afterward?
There is no such thing as a neutral interaction. The ones we think are neutral, really aren’t.
Sometimes, I think there’s some wide swath of flat, beige, detached relationship territory that I can stretch out in. When I do, I tend to get sloppy in my words, lazy in my choices, and generally self-absorbed. When I see that all interactions are either positive or negative, I have a chance to make choices – even small ones — based on love.
There is no such thing as a neutral interaction. We can always choose to bring our full presence to our relationships. When I remember this, I speak differently, I use my eyes differently, I hold my body differently, I think differently.
There is no such thing as a neutral interaction ~ and I forget this all the time. I mess up and take people for granted or treat them like they are two-dimensional or I get tangled in my own self-centered story. I regularly flop myself down into that nonexistent neutral territory then lift my head in surprise when someone feels slighted or unheard or that I’m a cranky pants. (And sometimes that someone is me.)
There is no such thing as neutral, and I can never be sure how any exchange will land with another person. They may be having a dreadful day and I slam my finger into one of their tender buttons by mistake. Or they may be feeling loved and confident and impervious to any clumsiness on my part.
I can’t control how someone receives my connection with them. I can, however, pay attention to what I bring to any relationship. Whether it is a passing relationship with the bank teller, the complex relationship with my stepchild, or my longest-term relationship with myself, I can choose what I offer.
There is no such thing as a neutral interaction and it’s easy to forget this.
There is no such thing as a neutral interaction and I can never be sure how my connection will be received.
There is no such thing as a neutral interaction and I can set my intention to be present with love ~ with others and with myself.
* Thanks to my friend, Chris Little, for planting the seed of this sentence months ago. I think of it every day and I’m grateful.