It’s June, and time for weddings.
This past Sunday, I attended the wedding of a relative of my wife’s. The venue was nice. The bride was beautiful and the ceremony was pleasantly secular. No issues there. I even practiced a bit of loving-kindness meditation during the reception to produce a general feeling of good-will toward all these people I’d never met before who how shared the room with me.
But as relatively distant relatives, we were seated at the “cousin’s table” with a number of people we did not know. I tried to engage in conversation with the women next to me, who, I believe, was my wife’s cousin’s wife’s cousin’s wife. At first, we tried talking about where we were from. That topic lasted for a couple of minutes but was quickly exhausted. After some uncomfortable silence, I turned to converse with my wife and she with her husband.
All the while, I was engaged in some self-criticism about how I was not that outgoing and that other people could easily strike up a conversation with anyone. Then I caught myself in this critical self-talk and decided to offer myself self-compassion, along the lines of that taught by the psychologist Kristin Neff. Just because I wasn’t great at conversation didn’t mean I should beat myself up and have a lousy time at the wedding. That brought me back to equanimity.
A bit later, my neighbor tried to open a new topic of conversation by asking what I did for work. I’d actually avoided this obvious question, because sometimes people don’t really want to talk about their work on a social occasion. However, it turned out well. I mentioned that I was a writer coming out with my first book, which is called Secular Meditation. It turned out that she was very much into mindfulness and we had quite a bit to talk about for the rest of the evening!
When you first meet someone, it can be difficult to identify a common interest. But a willingness to put up with initial awkwardness, with compassion for yourself and the person you are talking to, can perhaps make it easier to eventually find a way to make a connection.