Weeks later we were all stunned and devastated by the news of his death. Suddenly I understood something at a deep level; there had been something so fine and tender for me in that casual chat on a street corner and I realised our last meeting had been a sacred encounter.
One of my teachers says that in any conversation there is really only one thing happening: Loving Wisdom wanting to connect with Loving Wisdom. The place where we connect with each other is also where we are the most vulnerable. Author and empathy researcher, Dr Brene Brown talks about the vulnerability paradox: its the first thing we want to see in another but the last thing we want others to see in us. Yet everyone of us, at the deepest level, is seeking connection, in fact we're wired for it. It is our Loving Wisdom.
So many of our conversations, however, keep us from connecting with each other. Most of the time we are just trying to get our needs met, assert our authority, defend our position or we're so disengaged we're just operating on automatic. Rarely are we able to be fully present and appreciate the deep opportunity we are being given.
That young man's gift to me was a gentle and profound reminder of the real experience of relationship. Its easy to forget that state of awareness when bogged down in everyday life and responsibilities - but the moment I think about him and the beauty in our last meeting, I feel my heart opening again and suddenly everything changes. Bittersweet emotions flood my mind and 'the inarticulate speech of the heart', as Van Morrison so aptly named it, shifts my perception of the world and fills me with the courage to take a step in life where previously I had felt fear.
A Course In Miracles, a self-study system in 'spiritual psychology', teaches that the journey through life is one of unlearning. Unlearning and dismantling the defences we build around our heart. Relationships - the very place where we yearn for a connection heart to heart - are also where we learn to shut our hearts down. They also provide the greatest training ground for our unlearning. Painful, vulnerable experiences in childhood teach us to close our hearts because it hurts too much when we are open. But if we want to experience good feelings, we have to open our hearts again, be willing to connect with others and be vulnerable. We have to unlearn the closing down and treat vulnerability with compassion, understanding and empathy.
Opening your heart doesn't mean 'get happy' it means become vulnerable, drop your defences and allow life to mean something again. And by allowing life to mean something, you start living a more meaningful life and regain a happy connection with your Loving Wisdom.
Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.
Ralph Waldo Emerson