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  • Writer's pictureKhawla Shehadeh

A tricky question:"How are you?"

Raise your hand if your answer to the question "how are you?" is almost always "good", "well" or "great". Here is another raised hand.

Lately I've noticed that I don't have a very good answer to the question "how are you?". I've been practicing mindfulness and meditation for quite a few years now and there I've learned to feel or experience all the sensations that are alive in me at any given moment: to feel my body more subtly, to observe my thoughts and to recognise and experience emotions. But then, when a question like this comes up, I don't really know what to look for to be able to answer it with honesty.

In its purest form, free from the superficial social etiquette, this question can be a request for connection. It is personal, it shows interest and care from/for the person you are speaking with. A short answer like "good" can then feel like a rejection. It offers little opportunity for empathy and closeness to the other person. Therefore, I would like to bring more authenticity in answering this question.

Maybe I am making it unnecessarily complicated but this question forces me to answer from the head. When asked "How are you?"at that moment a film trailer is played in my head of everything that has been going on in my life since I last saw this person. How is my health, my work, my relationship, my family, my emotional wellbeing. But also asking myself whether I have experienced or done anything worth mentioning, such as going on holiday, moving house, becoming an aunt or whatever. That is quite something. Then answering with just "good" may sometimes be tempting.

Back to mindfulness. Being able to meticulously feel everything that is alive in me is very much focused on the present moment which is constantly changing. How do I feel now? Feeling what is in this moment might give answers like: "I really need to use the restroom" or "I feel some irritation going through my body" or "I am happy in my new jumper". It does make for strange looks, though. Especially if you have not seen someone for a long time. You can also wonder to what extent this leads to the connection you're hoping for. Unfortunately, I find no solace in mindfulness for this issue.

I find a better approach in Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication. There you have a wonderful exercise called "Celebration & mourning". You feel in the present moment as you look back on a particular session, a day or a period of time and name what you celebrate because certain needs have been met and what you mourn because certain needs have not been met. Celebrating and mourning gives the space to honestly feel and express what you are genuinely happy, excited or inspired by and what you feel disappointment, sadness or anger about.

This exercise works great for connecting with myself and at the same time with others. It is beautiful because it does not force me to make a final judgment. Life is nuanced and consists of many things that are going well and for which I am grateful and at the same time there are things that are not going so well or that are downright painful that I would also like to be able to name. Mindfulness helps you to stop and think about what you are feeling and non-violent communication offers tools to look at where you are in life in a balanced way.

What do you have to celebrate and mourn at this moment?

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