I spent my middle-school years in a tiny town in the northern part of South Africa in the early 1980s, and my very favorite memories from that time in my life involved going to the game parks.
Game watching was serious business. We’d get up early in the morning with tin cups of instant coffee, milk and sugar in hand, to drive quietly and slowly through the African savannah looking for animals.
Speaking was reduced to whispers and very low tones. Windows were usually open – unless monkeys were around, and insect and bird sounds of the African veld infused our airwaves.
I could happily spend long stretches of time just watching elephants grazing, baboons playing on the roadside, or warthogs foraging for food in the red dirt.
These trips taught me how to watch and listen, how to attune to natural rhythms and movements, how to enjoy the innate temperaments and personalities emerging from living beings. They also taught me about our interconnectedness and the neutral brutality of predator-prey dynamics.
This experience instilled in me a deep sense of oneness with life, and I often draw on that awareness today when I interact with other humans.
I’ve learned to watch and listen, to observe closely and look for the ways in which people make sense.
I’ve learned to enjoy the incredible diversity of defenses, adaptations, preferences, wounds, and strategies that we will all use as we navigate our individual paths from self-separation back to wholeness, from disconnection back into authentic community.
During a recent session of Conversations from the Heart, someone asked how they might learn to enjoy people more, to see complex human relationships as “fun.” (You can watch an excerpt from that conversation here.)
Here are two core practices that have helped me in my own journey to be able to relax and enjoy people as they are:
1. It’s not personal.
Remember that other people’s reactions to you are not a report card on your worthiness or lovability.
Their reactions to you tell you about where people have failed them and hurt them in their past, about how they have tried to protect and defend themselves in a world that hasn’t loved them well. They’re simply showing you what’s happened to them, and how they’ve adapted.
When someone attacks you or judges you, see through their defenses and lean into their pain. Bring presence, empathy, and curiosity. See them, hear them, and receive them.
2. Relax around pain (and other distressing emotions).
One of the most powerfully healing things you can do for yourself and others is to relax your own nervous system when you or other people are in pain.
When we’re able to relax in the face of strong emotions, we find ourselves more able to watch, observe, welcome, and attune to what is actually happening in the moment. Once we allow emotions to rise up and move through us and others, we free up tremendous amounts of locked up energy. As these emotions course through us, as they get seen and heard and felt, they release and discharge, allowing us to be more fully present and less stuck in memories and experiences from the past.
Feelings simply need to be felt, even the unpleasant ones.
Adopting these practices has helped me to lean into relationships instead of habitually bracing against them and has opened up a world of connection both to myself and to others.
For more inspiration and encouragement to live from your heart in all your relationships, join me on Wednesday mornings at Conversations from the Heart. I’d love to see you there.
And what helps you enjoy people as they are?
I’d love to know! Leave a comment below. 🙂
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I love this article! You have such helpful ways to help look at things. Thank you!
Yvette, you have so many wonderful insights to share with our group. Your comment about "It’s Not Personal" really assisted me in looking at my brother in a new way. It seems like his personal "hurt" gets pushed at me at times.
I wasn’t going to be brave and volunteer to share with the group, but now I think I will. Do I connect with Justin so he can put me on the list? I won’t be online on the 24th for the last half hour.
Thanks so much for all your wisdom.
You continue to share the most helpful insights and practices with us. Thank you. In my journey, I am starting to deeply understand that nothing is personal. Now I am ready to practice this and I am receiving help doing that.
I am reading Ruth King’s book Mindful of Race. In it, she explains that nothing is personal, permanent, or perfect. This book, participation in your classes, along with My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem, are helping me learn to sit with new, surprising, and difficult feelings and needs and then speak for them, not from them. Peace.
It helps me to ‘hear’ difficult emotions from people when I look for the need behind their feelings. Looking at my own feelings/needs is starting to happen more now.
THANKS for sharing your learning and teaching in such a user-friendly way.