“Hello! How are you?” “Good! How are you?” “Good!”
I act out this dialogue many times a day. Nearly everyone I meet is willing to rehearse these lines with me.
While I occasionally think of the cultural artifact of niceties as absurd, I also see that, well, they’re nice. A basic expression of acknowledgement and concern for another person fills a need for human connection.
There’s nothing bad about this, but sometimes it’s done with such automation that there isn’t genuine feeling or attention in it. I notice a remarkable difference when I actually stop moving, turn and look at a person, drop whatever I’m thinking about, and then ask this question. It seems like the words aren’t nearly as important as the intention they’re spoken with.
There must also be other possible ways for greeting others. It’s said that Lama Atisha, no matter how many times a day he saw someone, would inquire, “Meanwhile, have you had a good mind?”
This expression, too, has the potential to become just as automatic and glib as “How are you?” Since it isn’t yet a colloquialism, it’s meaning isn’t lost. It may cause someone to stop and actually think about it.
It connotes something different from other greetings common in the world: “How are you feeling?” or “Where are you going’?” or “Is your body well?” or “Namaste.” Many of these greetings, when I think about their literal meaning, do have a beautiful sentiment, which is turned into a moment of fulfilling connection when spoken in earnest.
Beyond that, asking if someone has had a good mind seems to be honoring something quite profound about the capacity of our human mind. It’s not just asking if someone feels happy, but if they’re thinking in a way that will make them happy. Asking if someone’s mind is good is seeing if it’s loving, compassionate, free of ill-will and greed. To me this greeting can be an encouragement to be mindful of our inner mental state.
Today, I’ll pay attention to my greetings. When I see someone, I’ll prepare myself for a moment before speaking a word. I’ll bring conscious intention into my communication, infusing it with a true feeling of interest and concern for the person I’m speaking with. Then, at least once today, I’ll experiment with Atisha’s greeting.
More importantly, I’ll ask myself if I’ve had a good mind and continue to check within to see the quality of my thoughts and mental states as I navigate this world of living beings. Thus, whether talking with people or sitting all alone, I’ll continue to increase the good qualities of compassion, wisdom, mindfulness, and conscientiousness, so as to not harm those around me and benefit them in any possible way.