September 2013: The True Power of Connection

by Brad on September 1, 2013

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” 
– Winston Churchill       .

Our world today screams connection. We’re connected on Facebook and Linked In. We connect through text, tweet and email. It’s hard to imagine/remember “before internet.” Technological connection is so pervasive that we run the risk of unconsciously measuring life by it – how many connections we have, what status they represent, how often we connect, what we might miss if we don’t, etc.

Being social creatures, it would seem that all our connecting would offer us peace and contentment. Yet observation suggests the opposite is more true – that we’re lonely, distracted, at times in despair. When I ponder what’s going on here, it seems our connecting is missing the one ingredient that makes us human – humanness. The underlying issue, I believe, is that we’ve bought the story our frenetic society lays on us, that we need to speed up, stay busy, and get it all done, as if life were a race. (If life really were a race, did you ever consider what you’d do the day after you won (or lost)?) Perhaps a shift in perspective may help.  

OwlI’m not against technology. I worked in high tech for 30+ years. I love what technology can do. I use it to its fullest. Yet I’m also aware, sometimes painfully, of its limitations. Email may be a great way to schedule a group meeting, but a lousy way to resolve conflict. Texting may be an easy way to set a time for lunch, but a nasty way to ask for a divorce (yes, I’ve heard of this happening). From a bigger perspective, though, the greatest limitation is the one we create, by using technology, often unwittingly, to replace the depth of human connection we both long for and need. In the process, we’ve forgotten how to listen, forgotten how to learn from one another, and forgotten how to be with ourselves. We’ve become faster, bigger, broader and more visible, “out there;” yet we’ve something, “in here.”

Being human, and specifically here, being truly connected as humans, asks us instead to slow down, sometimes to stop altogether, so we can find common ground, listen, understand, explore, learn, open to new possibility, and be willing to be changed – all in an environment of non-judgment, and with no attachment to a result. The term for it is dialogue. Very little in our fast-paced, sound-bite, do-it-now world encourages, supports or exemplifies real dialogue.

Exercise: An opening to dialogue: Plan a time you can share with a trusted friend or loved one. Sit quietly for a few minutes simply to be aware of, and connected to, each other’s presence. You might acknowledge aloud gratitude for the time together, as well as your intention that it be shared, respectful, and in the spirit of learning. Jointly select a topic about which both of you believe strongly, but perhaps see differently. It could be a commonly-contentious one like politics or religion; or it could be a “conversation for possibility,” such as ideas on educating your children.

One of you speaks about your thoughts, philosophy, and conclusions, sharing the thought process that brought you to your conclusions. The other one listens – only listens. No speaking; resist (but notice) any temptation to create arguments or responses; seek only to understand. (You may find this difficult at first; but in the spirit of learning, you might commit to ongoing practice). Then reverse things; the second person speaks to his/her own thoughts and conclusions, but not counter-arguments to the other. The other, again, simply listens, seeking to understand. You may choose to continue back and forth, exploring more deeply, all to learn, to deepen, to appreciate.  

This exercise can be powerful. Done in the spirit suggested, you begin from common ground – a shared respect and desire to learn. Your conversation may diverge from this common place, yet your willingness to learn allows you to know each other more deeply. You don’t have to agree. Once you understand how someone came to the conclusions they hold, you can appreciate them more fully, whether you agree with them or not. You won’t find many models of true dialogue in our world, whether in politics, religion, business or media, so you’ll be on your own here – perhaps you’ll find this a source of freedom! Here’s a thought to ponder. What if you ‘measured’ your connectedness in the world, not by numbers, frequency, type or status, but by how your connectedness expands the size of your world? 

 

A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

For five days this past month, I enjoyed the experience of being in old-growth forest of the Pacific Northwest, near Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. For several hours each day, I sat alone with the trees, experiencing their many shades of green, the scent of their needles, the all-too-human faces that emerged in their trunks with the day’s changing light … and the lessons they had to teach me about life. Here, where the moss on the trees was likely as old as most trees, life had slowed to a pace that touched me deeply. Alone but not lonely, I felt deeply connected to the pulse of nature, a beat very different from the everyday world I’d left behind. I find this kind of experience centering, calming, life-affirming, and renewing.

wifiNot that I wanted a technology connection, whether cell phone, text or internet; it didn’t matter; none was available for miles. Perhaps intentional, perhaps serendipitous, or perhaps both, a colleague of mine had posted this image on my Facebook timeline. Fittingly, I didn’t see it until days later, when I’d returned to “civilization.” It created a striking reminder of why “I went to the woods.”

Many find it difficult to be alone with themselves. Reports indicate that it’s the ‘fear factor’ of their own thoughts. I know from experience those thoughts calm after some practice being alone with them, but it still takes courage to stay with it through those first anxiety-producing steps. If you have not gone beyond that anxiety, it may be difficult to imagine the peace that awaits. A curious “by-product” of the acquired ability to enjoy your own company, however, is the natural emergence of the ability to be with others. For me, that shift represented an opening to a dialogue-driven life. Although still very much an introvert, I’m now at peace being with others, too, when the conversation is shared, based in mutual respect and learning, and conducted in the spirit of allowing life to change us. And – my time in the woods is proof that neither connection nor dialogue need be limited only to humans; nature has so much to teach us, should we, or could we, choose to listen with the intention of learning. 

 

Openings to New Possibility

Available for you:

  • The Road Not Taken Community, a no-cost subscription that offers you connection, interaction, challenge, and learning. See articles, newsletters and blogs; you’ll find “new stuff” here regularly. I welcome comments and conversation; this kind of dialogue is an example of how we may all learn together.
  • “In Nature’s Image,” a series of blog posts here. A new post every few days, each a simple suggestion for adding meaning to your life, accompanied by one of my images from nature. If you’d like them delivered to you by email, you may use the green icon (“receive blog via RSS feed”) on any page of my website or right here. If we are connected on Facebook, you’ll also find each post there.
  • My e-book, A Field Guide to Life: How to Live With Authenticity and Freedom, offering a path beyond the limiting belief that you can’t live an extraordinary life. Reclaim the power of your deepest longing. You can purchase the ebook, or read it at no cost as a series of blog articles posted on my website.
  • The Road Not Taken newsletters (11 years, 132 issues of Purposeful Wanderings) available here as a pdf file.  
  • Photo images from my travels available here on fun products – note cards, coffee mugs – great gift ideas.

An invitation to possibility: If you have the courage and determination to step apart from the crowd and challenge conventional thinking so you can live instead with authenticity and freedom, contact me for a conversation that can shift your thinking forever. I will help you reach a level of clarity and perspective – about yourself, others, your life, your work and the world – that allows you to live your truth, every day. Trade the way it is for the way it could be.

Book of the month The Five Keys to Mindful Communication , by Susan Gillis Chapman. A practical guide to the art of two-way dialogue, with simple principles based in eastern thought.  (Why is it that eastern, rather than western, thought offers us so much in creating lives we love? Perhaps this offers yet another message about our prevailing thought models.)  Anyway, a useful addition to creating a shift toward deeper and more meaningful conversations. … And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book available at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.

 

Download September 2013 pdf

 

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