Body Language: Stillness

wire and cap car

I noticed myself standing still, and it felt good. All afternoon, people wandered through The Compassion Experience. They moved thoughtfully through tin-roofed homes and tiny schoolrooms, listening to the stories of Compassion graduates who had shared their childhood trinkets, traumas and triumphs to help us Westerners understand that poverty exceeds what we’ve seen. Some of our visitors were afraid when they entered that they’d never stop crying. In the few feet before the first curtain, there is a vacuum, a silence made of reverence or uncertainty.

There’s really no cause for hesitation, because all of the stories end in joy, but the transition from fear to tears, possibility and then responsibility in such a short time is intense. Real life isn’t as action-packed as The Fast and the Furious, but it’s more potent and can’t be escaped when the credits roll. Our visitors didn’t shy away though. Many brought their own children, because the best character training includes a bit of culture shock. When the story was done and they crossed the final curtain, they entered our room hugging themselves. When we took their iPods®, they wandered around doing that thing people do when they can’t occupy their hands—their fingertips huddled together in front of their chests, like nervous schoolgirls whispering together on the playground.

That move—fingers winding around each other in front of the chest. I do it a lot myself, keeping my elbows close to my sides as though I’m trying to be small. It’s a security blanket move that people use, and when you’re full of emotion and there are people around, it makes psychological sense. When I do it in Toastmasters, my evaluator reminds me to expand into my space. I’ve noticed that the people who command my admiration are those with relaxed arms, wide-open shoulders and deep roots.

In social settings, I’m pretty animated. I scare little children because I’m so hyper. If you get me on a topic I love, I go for days—perhaps you’ve noticed. My word for 2015, “Listen,” was no accident. Although communication has long been a favorite topic for me, I needed to improve my listening skills. In 2015, I practiced interrupting less, learned more about how to read body language, and I worked on slowing down so I could hear God better (that one will always need work). Silence and standing still are powerful tools I’m learning to use. Over the next few posts, we’re going to look at physical communication skills that will help us connect better with people.

In the room walled with packets of children waiting to be sponsored, people initially avoided eye contact or did that jumpy eye thing. You know that move? They glance politely but immediately look away in order to maintain their distance. I didn’t bounce into their space; I just stood still or moved out of the way and offered a comment or question that invited them to open up if they wanted to. As I got better at standing still, they opened up more. Not everyone needed to talk, and that’s okay. It felt good to be doing something that usually occurs to me only after I’ve been uber-kinetic. My body language is improving.

Check out this awkward moment with Tim Hawkins and then go to work, where you’re sure to burst out at least once in a seemingly random laugh that will make your coworkers wonder what you did this morning.

Lord, You’ve made us each with the detail of mini-universes. Our thoughts careen in every direction in every moment. Because of this, we sometimes block our connections or assume defensive positions.  This week, raise our awareness of the things others might be feeling, and give us the skills to help them relax.

 

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