Have you ever had the experience of seeing someone for the very first time and feeling an immediate connection with them? Some might call this ‘love at first sight,’ but we don’t have to bond romantically to have had this experience. It happens with lovers, for sure, but it also happens with those who become best friends.

While this type of connection may seem magical, coincidental or beyond our conscious control, we need to exercise certain behaviors to maintain or deepen the sense of connection we initially feel.

One of the most significant relationships in my life began at a Joanna Macy workshop a number of years ago. Joanna invited us to look around the room of about 60 people and find someone we didn’t already know with whom we would share an exercise. For some reason, my eyes landed on a woman whose eyes had, at the same time, landed on me.

We simultaneously smiled and moved toward each other, as if knowing at some deep level that we were meant to meet. At the same time, it felt as if we were old friends seeing each other again after a very long time. We joyfully recognized our connection and have been able to maintain it over the years.

What was that connection? Was it an emotional one? A spiritual one? I can’t say for sure, but since we were participants in a workshop that was about respecting the earth and all life, I’m not sure I can separate the emotional from the spiritual. All I know is that we connected at a level that helped us recognize each other as kindred spirits.

But to the larger question: How do we consciously connect with others on an emotional level? How do we consciously connect on a spiritual level? Do we have control over any of that or does it simply happen when we meet someone with whom our energy resonates?

There’s a saying that people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. We really never know how long we’ll be in someone’s life or they in ours. But at the end of the day, or the relationship, we can hopefully glean some insight into the why(s) of who they were to us, perhaps who we were to them, and how our life has been affected by their presence.

Whatever the reason for our connection, if we want to maintain healthy emotional and spiritual relationships with those we care about, awareness and some practical steps are necessary.

1)      Giving and Receiving. Giving doesn’t need to be grandiose or outrageous. Something as simple as a smile can make a huge difference in a person’s day. A smile can pass between perfect strangers and while we may never know its impact, from our own experience we know that such a simple act can make someone who feels lonely suddenly feel seen, honored and respected. A tender smile offered to a friend or partner can lift their mood, turn their day around and deepen your connection.

2)      Give Your Full Attention. These days we’re so distracted — our attention flits from one thing to another so easily — that turning off phones, computers, tablets and other electronic devices and giving your undivided attention to your friend or lover is one of the greatest gifts you can offer. This kind of attention, now called Presence, allows us to fully honor our relationship and strengthen our connection.

3)      Make Eye Contact. While they’re talking, make eye contact. There is no greater indication that you are listening than when you make eye contact. It’s been said that the eyes are the gateway to the soul, so whether you want to connect on an emotional or spiritual level, making eye contact assures your partner that you are fully engaged with them, whether you’re sharing moments of sacred silence or thoughtful conversation.

4)      Kind, Caring & Respectful Communication. No matter how long we’ve been in relationship with someone, bringing a sense of curiosity into our exchanges helps keep our conversations fresh and alive. When we’re curious, assumptions and judgments fall away and we make ourselves available; open to discovering something new and interesting. In Buddhist practice, this element of curiosity is called Beginner’s Mind—ever fresh, ever open, ever receptive.

5)      Trust. Before we share our deepest, darkest secrets, our desires and insecurities—or can expect anyone else to—there must be trust. True connection carries with it a trust that can neither be bargained for nor bought. Trust is earned and takes time to establish. Once a natural sense of trust flows between two people, we experience a level of intimacy—the freedom to be our unadorned, unpretentious, natural self. We drop all pretense when we trust. Our relationship is unguarded and honest, revelatory and enriching.

6)      Fight fair. Because no two people can always agree about everything, it’s a rare (and perhaps not truly honest) couple that doesn’t get into disagreements. When a relationship is built on mutual respect and a willingness to learn and grow, disagreements won’t shatter our fundamental connection. If, however, disagreements disintegrate into name calling or citing past infractions, the trust you’ve created can be broken. And once broken, trust is usually difficult to repair.

While there is some debate as to whether emotional and spiritual connections are the same, I believe that there is some difference. When I think of those with whom I have a spiritual connection, there seems to be something deeper happening.