Meeting people is difficult because nearly everyone is lost in thought, which is an effective barrier to encounters.
We pay a heavy price for being civilized, literate humans. Estrangement from others is an important part of that price.
There are two modes of awareness or consciousness: direct and indirect.
Indirect awareness is thought-laden. Direct awareness occurs without thought. Genuinely meeting people requires direct awareness.
To be burdened by thought is to think. To think is to conceptualize. To conceptualize is to separate by categorizing (sorting, classifying, cataloging).
Consider a simple case in which a thought-laden man meets a woman. Of course, he immediately takes her to be other. As other, he immediately evaluates her in terms of his likes (desires, appetites) and dislikes:
Is she beautiful? Is she sexy? Is she intelligent? Is she witty? Does she have high self-esteem? Is she wealthy? Would she look good as a kind of appendage if he were seen with her socially?
In other words, what could she do for him? Might she be a sexual, social, or political asset?
How should she be understood (conceptualized, labeled)?
Some of his classifications take place within seconds. Some require more time. All are habitual or, at least, customary or usual.
The labels would be different if he were to meet a man, but the same kind of process occurs. Of course, the same kind of process occurs when a thought-laden woman meets another person.
Since such conceptualizing is separating, meeting people is more difficult to the extent that we conceptualize. The less we conceptualize, the easier meeting people becomes.
Of course, sometimes it’s necessary to conceptualize others. Anyone who went through life ignoring potentially dangerous others might not live long.
It’s important to realize, as all self-conscious people understand, that others are constantly evaluating us. Even if I freed myself from the often insidious habit of conceptualizing others, they would still conceptualize me.
What’s the alternative?
It’s not immediately clear, is it?
The alternative is to free oneself from incessant conceptualizing. This, I take it, is how sages live.
It’s not that sages are unable to think or that they don’t think. Sages think when it is useful to think and not otherwise. In other words, they are free from useless, often repetitive and habitual, thoughts.
What should you do if you are interested at improving your skill at meeting people?
Regularly practice letting go of thinking.
It’s best to start with natural objects that are so common that you automatically dismiss them as soon as you notice and label them. Is there, for example, a tree near where you live that you see almost daily? Have you ever really looked at it? Have you ever really looked at it for even a few seconds without conceptualizing or labeling? What would it be like to perceive it for the first time?
What about a nearby patch of grass? Try lying down on your stomach and simply looking at it for a few minutes.
Flowers are excellent subjects – as are many animals.
Plants, most nonhuman animals, and even minerals are all relatively easy to meet because they are not thinking about you. So only one entity, rather than two entities, has to drop thought for genuine meeting to occur.
Notice that, in the sense that these other forms are also parts of Nature, they are ultimately not separate from you because you, too, are part of Nature. There is one whole totality.
Meeting people is difficult because, even if you are not conceptualizing them, it’s almost always true that they are conceptualizing you. Meeting people genuinely only occurs when both people succeed in letting go of thought. It takes two.
It can be very sad if you are willing to drop incessant conceptualizing but the person you’d like to meet isn’t.
The good news is that genuinely meeting others is possible. The bad news is that it’s uncommon and initially difficult.
Please never blame yourself if a potential partner never genuinely meets you. Since you are not in control of how that other person uses the mind, it’s not your responsibility.
Your responsibility is to be as open to others as possible, to be as infrequently lost in thought as possible.
Fulfilling that responsibility is, although difficult, very simple. Nothing could be more natural.
Changing habits is never easy. Changing this one, though, is very satisfying. Even just doing the first time can be a revelation.
Logically, the best way to start is with identification rather than trying to stop noticing similarities and differences. In other words, start by pretending that the other is really not other at all.
If you begin with the assumption that that other is ultimately one with you, you’ll soon discover for yourself that meeting people suddenly becomes much easier.
As always, if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please forward it.
Additional resources: J.J. Rouseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality; Eckhart Tolle’s “Realizing the Power of Now” (6 CD set).