Most of us, save those in true solitude, find ourselves in connection with others throughout each day. The frequency of these connections, which may lead us to believe that these interactions are simply a given, make it so that some of them take place without our full awareness or appreciation. But our connections aren’t necessarily a given, and every interaction with another — especially those we enjoy in person, an increasing rarity — has the potential to transform our lives, no matter how big or small, extended or brief, intimate or aloof, easy or hard the relationship might be. Indeed, we are always in relationship with others: Even when we’re not in the physical presence of another person, much of our time is spent thinking about our connections with others, mulling over their words and actions and their impact on our lives. With this in mind, we can approach our connections with gratefulness, honoring the profound opportunity we have to share the experience of being alive, together, in this world.

Cultivate presence

Cultivate a sense of presence to the situation in which you find yourself connected with another person. Notice your surroundings. Notice the person with whom you find yourself: their appearance; their voice and its pitch, tone, and cadence; their general demeanor. With all of your body, mind, and spirit, tune into this person and whatever activity you find yourself doing together — whether you’re conversing or in silence.

Recognize the opportunity the connection offers

Acknowledge the gift of being in connection with this particular person. The opportunity may be one of delight and joy, or it may be one of difficulty. Even with a person who feels challenging for you, try to reframe the experience from obligation to opportunity. Whatever the case, look for the opportunity to grow, to show up wholeheartedly, and in doing so, to cultivate a sense of mutual belonging through the shared experience of being alive. Embrace the poignancy of the moment, the fleeting nature of the interaction, and ultimately the gift and ephemerality of the relationship.

Gratefully reflect

Verbally express appreciation for the given moment of this connection. Be specific in reflecting aspects of your experience with this other person that feel particularly meaningful. You might appreciate the environment you find yourself in, something the person said, the way you’re feeling in this person’s company, or a new insight that the connection has helped surface.

Assume the best and ask questions

Assume the person you’re connecting with is doing the best they can. If they say or do something that gives you pause, invite yourself to check any defensive or reactionary words or behaviors that might arise for you. Choose instead to ask non-judgmental, invitational questions as a way of clarifying, such as “I wonder what you mean by…” or “I’m curious why you say or do…” 

If the person’s words or behaviors feel particularly hurtful, honor yourself as well as the other person by making your feelings clear — as kindly as possible. Respect your intuition by clearly and compassionately stating any boundaries you may feel the need to create in your connection. And consider the place of forgiveness. However you proceed, embrace the opportunity that this challenging connection offers you to grow, learning more about both yourself and others in the process.

Wish them well

In gratitude for the connection, extend well-wishes to the other person. You might acknowledge gratitude and blessings silently to yourself or aloud to the other person. If your expression comes in the form of a conventional farewell, such as “thank you for taking this time with me,” or “take care,” offer these words authentically with the fullness of your heart. Your well-wishes don’t need to find themselves at the end of your interaction; you might feel moved to include them at the beginning or midway through. Perhaps it feels challenging to wish the other person well, which is OK; if you can, try to work through this difficulty, and if you can’t, turn your gratitude instead toward making the choice to respect your personal boundaries and toward having the opportunity to do so, which the other person has created. 

If you’d like additional inspiration for meaningful ways to wish others well, you might explore metta meditations and the practice of lovingkindness. Sense how it feels for you to express well-wishes for those with whom you’re in connection. What arises for you? How does it impact your relationship?

When we endeavor to connect gratefully with others, we open to what it means to be fully human. Showing up wholeheartedly in all of our relationships affirms the values of love, vulnerability, and compassion, the impact of which extends far beyond the poignant connections that enrich our lives every day.

*While this practice applies to being in relationship with other people, you could also explore how some of these practices apply to our relationship with other beings. Consider connections to those furry friends that bring meaning to so many of our lives. We might also find ourselves in relationship with the natural world of which we are part. What happens when you expand your circle of connection and relationship?