Approaching with Reverence

What you encounter, recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach. Many of the ancient cultures practiced careful rituals of approach. An encounter of depth and spirit was preceded by careful preparation. When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us. Our real life comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things. When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart and arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace. —John O’Donahue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace.*

How we approach one another affects what we will encounter, recognize or discover in one another and in our moments together. What would we experience if we were to prepare for and go towards others with reverence? In other words, regarding and treating others with deep respect, regardless of who they are.

My consistent experience is that when I am able to be in conversations with deep respect, great things do indeed approach, as O’Donahue suggests. For example, others tend to express deeper levels of who they are and what they most deeply care about. This is the light that often remains hidden beneath the surface until the beauty inside others decides to trust in the respect being extended to it.

Far too often the sense of rushing to get to To-Do lists and the brain’s desire to be certain about what it knows buries the gentleness and patience essential to interacting with others with reverence. Thinking we don’t have time and living with the conceit that we already know who others are or what the situation is mean we don’t get to experience the embrace of insight and energy bubbling up among us.

This is not just philosophy. There are neural correlates that demonstrate the potential impact of approaching others with reverence: mirror neurons, oxytocin, and neuroplasticity.

Mirror neurons. Humans have an instinct to imitate one another; we synchronize our bodies, action, even the way we speak to one another through the mirror neurons in the brain. When someone approaches you with arrogance or impatience, how do you react? Do you react in kind? Or, when someone approaches with reverence, having prepared themselves for the conversation, how do you respond?

Oxytocin. This neurotransmitter increases feelings of love and trust among people. To be trusted usually requires trusting others. Trust begets trust. This is one aspect of deep respect. Oxytocin reduces activation in the amygdala or alarm bell of the brain enabling oxytocin levels to increase.

Neuroplasticity. If approaching others with reverence seems beyond your ken at the moment, there is good news. The brain changes itself through repeated experience. So, the more you practice approaching others and situations with reverence, the easier it will become.

Here is more good news. This practice creates its own sense of reward in the brain; and your respect will likely engender people’s respect for you, thus inspiring your light and life to come to the surface, be expressed, and be revered.

The advanced practice is maintaining a reverence for yourself and others when you are not being treated with respect. This can evoke an upward spiral of reciprocal respect. The alternative is to let the more primitive parts of the brain take over and start mirroring disrespect, further evoking the amygdala, and deepening the neural pathways in the brain for disrespect, arrogance, and impatience. I am working hard to practice the former. How about you?

*Many thanks to my friend and colleague Gwen Wuesthof for sending me this quote.

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