I’ve enjoyed sharing in rambling discussions while walking along city sidewalks, while dining at eateries, and trading in meandering streams of thought while floating on inner tubes with friends. A multi-generational community gathering recently offered our neighborhood a chance to break bread together, raise our glasses, and delight in each other’s company. I met up with several old friends but a highlight for me was engaging in a lengthy and enthralling exchange with a bright 8 year old and her younger sister.
This week a house guest and I, each alone through the last 18 months of COVID, have had several nurturing, deep conversations (punctuated by many laugh-so-hard-you-snort contagious belly laughs) on my front porch and at my kitchen table. Clearly we’ve both been hungry for genuine companionship (and the chance to just be silly). I’ve also had witty, playful discussions via texts and some wonderful chats over the phone with siblings and nearly always with my mother. I’ve even had some lovely heartfelt exchanges via FB messenger with a friend who was literally on another continent six thousand miles away.
So while geography can set the tone, context affects the flavor, and the means often sets the pace, there’s something about our desire and need to connect with others that seems to transcend all the above.
In the best of these interactions trust and sincerity seem to me the foundational components. Whether engaging with someone we’ve known literally our entire life (like family members or lifelong friends) or a first encounter with someone, we want to feel safe when we share. Sometimes this need is overt, at other times it’s barely perceptible or even unconscious. I find when we can allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable and offer our authentic self to others, it makes for the richest exchanges.
For me hearty connections also oblige deep listening, without distractions. Maybe I’m just not as adept at juggling as others, but I prefer giving singular focus to the tasks I do and to the conversations in which I share. When dialoguing in person this means tuning out all devices; when communicating through a device, it means not multi-tasking while engaged. Perhaps it’s the artisan in me (or perhaps I’m just “simple”), but I want to be fully present. There’s a unique emotional and physical energetic communion occurring within every particular conversation; I try not to miss it.
I enjoy such sharing immensely but I seem to be equal parts introvert and extrovert, so I savor my “away from humans” time as well. Floating solo on the river hundreds of trips has offered me a familiar, mostly quiet space to recharge. Inevitably, even if I encounter no humans, a “co-mingling” occurs. By not talking and quieting my mind, I become more receptive to the non-human “energies” of the world through which I am floating.
It may be feeling the power and presence of an eons-old boulder sculpted by the currents over thousands of years; or sensing the soft transition of a centuries-old tree trunk into humus; or feeling the vitality of a seedling emerging between both, bravely reaching skyward to catch some sunlight. Often on a float I’ll catch glimpses of minnows wriggling between the waving river grass, and in doing so my limbs seem to mimetically loosen. On evening floats I may mindlessly spy swallows making flowing arcs and slow-turning pirouettes overhead. They echo the unseen breezes on my skin as I’m gently rocked on the water flowing below them. Literally floating between earth and sky, their aerial ballet amid the panoply of sensations always lifts my spirits.
On a float in the early morning, a few days ago I spotted a smooth as silk, svelte critter darting among the rocks along the river bank. It was a mink. Within an instant it scampered over a branch, plunged fully into the river without a splash, was out in a wink, gave a split second shake, slinked under and then over a limb, and pausing, for just a second, looked my way and our eyes met, before it continued along its mercurial journey. The brief encounter lingers far beyond the experience. No sounds were shared in our exchange, but passing it instantly quickened my senses. And the memory still resonates—the sleek critter’s speedy, seemingly effortless movements, somehow unconsciously inspiring my muscles to emulate its efficient grace.
A bit further, there’s a form far off downriver (barely a speck in the riverscape, really). I know at once it’s a great blue heron. I’m 500 feet away, and already it turns its head and acknowledges me. It takes flight passing overhead upstream before I’m anywhere close. It conveys by example: be watchful, notice details, yet stay aware of the broad world in all directions with “soft eyes.”
Moments later on the float, its mate extended great trust, allowing me to get very near in these early hours of the day. Abruptly, this enormous, gangly yet supremely majestic bird pushed itself upward into the morning air, long legs dripping, it defied the boundaries between earth and sky, even while defining the boundary of our intimacy. I was awed by the sheer beauty of the whole: the glistening water, the fresh new foliage, scents of the river on the cool breeze, the heron’s powerful departure from river mud into the atmosphere. Consciously yet without thought, I absorbed it all — my being merging within all aspects of the instant. I sense and intuitively feel the heron’s presence has imbued something more potent than words within me as I climb the bank to head home, grateful for the gift of yet another rich conversation.