I significantly remember the question ‘How are you?’ after moving to the USA. This question has been on a journey and evolution of it’s own. It’s relevance, in what it means to me, has changed tremendously over the years.
One of the stark experiences of coming to US from India, was the contrast in the experience of going for a walk here. While a way had to be carved amongst hurried humans on the streets of Mumbai, here the way was all to myself. The sight of a fellow human being on foot felt most thrilling. Soon I realized that eye contact elicited the question ‘How are you?’ After first few times of an awkward nod-&-smile, I learned that ‘good’ is the preferred answer unlike ‘fine’ in India. Also a following ‘thank you’ made a complete answer. I quickly learned to ask that question now to whoever I crossed path with. I was very amused at the first ‘Not too bad’ reply. Now there was an element of truth to it …I liked that!
Truth be told the question didn’t mean anything to me …it confused me about how can it be a form of greeting to anyone …it felt pretty superficial to me. A question for which an answer was already decided. Being in a new country and being impacted by everything in a brand new way, I admit I had blocked off all feelings except for a sense of wonder for how things operated here. I had no clue how I felt for a ‘How are you?’
Fast forward to a phase of life when I dealt with a health crisis. I truly discovered the value of the question ‘How are you?’ Especially in social circles and acquaintances the question came only from those who really wanted to know. It made a huge difference in my day and life when someone asked me ‘How are you?’ and actually listened. They indulged with me in my lighthearted attempts at humor and reveled in my positive perspectives. Sometimes they let me unload when I was feeling down, lending me their perspectives of how all of it is going to work out all right 🙂 I think I would remember a few ‘How are you?’ encounters during that phase for the rest of my life …
In a ‘regular’ life and world now, I am once again getting uncomfortable with that question. Because now I care too much about that question and the answer. It’s relevance does keep changing depending on who is asking and when. But there is only certain number of times that I have the ‘patience’ to have the answer to that question in a word or two …outside of any professional setting.
One of my yoga teachers introduced this concept of asking ‘How is your heart?’ that truly speaks to me. We often carry within us a feeling in our heart …we feel it tangibly, a heaviness, a block of iron, a hole, an emptiness … it is directly connected to the way we are feeling and being in our being. To answer a ‘good’ while carrying all that within …repeatedly …brings a lot of tediousness, fakeness and more of whatever you are lugging within you. Of course it gets easier when what you are carrying is more of a spaciousness and lightness …
We are social animals for the significant reason that we are together in this. So we connect, we share, laugh and lighten up together. If we are using these opportunities only to deny what we are carrying within …we are denying ourselves the richness of human connection. There is different media used for communication like phone and text, besides personal encounters. With all kinds of time consuming routines that most of us have dedicated to, it has become very important to me that I truly get to answer a ‘How are you?’ to a friend. Also if I am taking the time to ask you ‘How are you?’ I really mean to know from you. Anything that is relevant to you at that time …whether you are excited about your new project, slightly or more worried or stressed at work, busy sorting some family stuff …anything …if you are a friend or anything more than just a professional contact to me …then I care to know. If you ask me ‘How are you?’ it is my heart that wants to speak to you more than the mannerly conditioned human in me.
Let us create a web of connections heart to heart that we can dangle and tangle in … where we feel safe to untangle the knots in our belly and lighten the iron blocks in our heart. Where we are unafraid to be our vulnerable, authentic selves …where our woes are cared for and hearts are nurtured, there need not be any pretense of positivity. We feel what we feel. Let us live together in wonderment of life itself …does it matter whether we laugh or cry or speak our heart as a response to a thoughtful ‘How are you?’
Funny thing is that now I feel so lost at a ‘How are you?’ casually thrown at me…I almost want to say …’I have no idea in the moment’ …because the heart feels a lot. 🙂