Last month I introduced to you the idea that loneliness has taken over our society like an infection. This month we continue our series on loneliness and ways to deal with it in today’s world.
Loneliness is widespread despite our almost constant electronic connections to many thousands of people. The reason for this is that there is a vast difference between connection and relationship. While we have a need to feel that we belong somewhere and electronic connection can meet that need, we have a deeper, more basic need to be seen and appreciated by others. This is the basis of true relationships.
I am blessed to have friends in my life that I have had since childhood. Jill, Cindy, Ava and several more are people who know me very well and have for a long period of time. The friend who knows me best and longest, though, is Ellen. She and I have been friends since I was about 4 years old. When I see or talk to her now, we pick up like we had spoken yesterday even though it may have been several months since we really were in touch.
Here’s part of what makes my relationship with Ellen like that: we spent all our free time together as children. But it’s not just the amount of time together. We were relating to each other for all those hours. Talking, laughing, playing…inside or out, being active or sitting quietly, we were involved with each other. Not just being near each other. And there really weren’t electronics in our lives. Even when we occasionally watched television or listened to the record player or radio, we were also communicating or playing while we did it.
The result was that we have a friendship that is deep and rich. The vast understanding we have of each others’ moods, thoughts and feelings means I know I can turn to her any time. And she can do that as well. We each feel that the other person really knows and really appreciates who we are.
I am not telling you about Ellen to suggest that you are lonely if you do not have that kind of childhood friend. What I am suggesting is that your need for deep relationship can be created at any time in your life. You can do it now with the people you already know if you are willing to invest the time and take the risk. The reward is well worth it.
I hope you enjoy this month’s feature article on deep relationships. Please let me know your thoughts.
We have very few models that show us how to be in a positive relationship. Whether it is TV sitcoms that make humor out of miscommunication or rudeness in relationships or big screen movies that portray relationships only through conflict and violence, there are very few media examples that give us benchmarks about how to have a mutually caring and respectful relationship with someone else – or even with ourselves.
Relationships are ways to deepen your connection with yourself and with others. In the movie Avatar, the acknowledgement “I see you” was an affirmation that Neytiri was really paying attention to all of who Jake Sully was: not just what he was saying, but his words, intentions, and integrity. And while Jake initially had a hidden agenda for getting to know Neytiri and her tribe, the strength of their relationship pulled him through to be the hero in the end. Jake improved his relationship with himself by fully participating in a relationship with Neytiri.
For weeks after the release of the movie, I heard people saying to each other “I see you”. Just as after the release of the first Star Wars movie everyone was saluting each other with “May the force be with you.” Both of these sayings are similar to the Sanskrit salutation “Namaste”, meaning “the divine in me honors the divine in you”, a peaceful and open way to encourage engagement in relationship.
Studies show that as human beings, we value love, intimacy and social affiliation more than anything else, including wealth, fame or even physical health. We are social animals and our ability to form bonds and act collectively has been central to our rise as the planet’s dominant species.
But our focus on reasoning and technology may be one of the culprits in today’s world. We have created a culture where we can connect yet not be in touch. I was walking in a mall recently and saw a teen couple sitting on a bench next to each other while texting on their phones. I found myself thinking, “I wonder if they are texting each other?” Texting seems to be the preferred method of communication among youth and young adults today. Short abbreviated bursts of information using emoticons is not relationship building. Texting can be a cure for boredom, but not for loneliness. And it certainly isn’t a substitute for relationship.
Relationship building requires being truly heard or seen by another. When was the last time you experienced that? How did that happen? Who was it with? Why was this able to happen with that particular person? What did s/he bring to the relationship? Were you physically together? On the phone? Were you in a private place where you could be uninterrupted? Did you feel safe? Did you feel trust? Why?
All of these questions point to the roots of a positive relationship: trust, safety, privacy, engagement and acceptance. You can’t find that on a computer. These qualities create being in touch; electronics only create being connected.
Now consider the last time you focused on someone you cared about so that you really heard what s/he said. Think about the factors that contributed to that happening. Remember who the connection was with, where you were, the details of how it happened. Recall the feelings you had about your relationship with that person.
Use your experiences to study and better understand (or remember) how an engaged, sharing relationship feels and looks, and in what settings they can best occur for you.
Let’s also look at your relationship with yourself. It is all too common to be disconnected from our own true nature. That usually appears as focusing on everyone except yourself to the extent you aren’t even sure about your own wants, needs or desires. A healthy relationship with the self means that you have awareness of the many facets of who you are. And that you acknowledge and accept who you are, with all your delights and disappointments. Everyone has pluses and minuses in their lives; it does not help you to judge yourself more harshly than you would judge anyone else. Spending time alone in reflection can help you assess your relationship with yourself and to make it more accepting and loving.
And only by having a positive relationship with yourself can you have a positive relationship with another. It requires feeling safe with yourself to be able to risk allowing
others to know the real you. Fear of rejection may stop you if you believe that other person understands something about you that you don’t know. Knowing yourself well and accepting who you are makes all the difference.
In the past few years, laboratory research has examined the power of our need for contact with others and has, in fact, mapped its physiological roots. Cooperation, for example, activates the “reward” areas of the brain, much as those same areas are activated by other rewards such as the satisfaction of hunger. When we experience social rejection, that situation activates the same areas in the brain that light up when we are subjected to physical pain.
It is too easy to avoid deeper relationships where you expose your personal depths to another because of your fear of vulnerability or rejection. But the cost of insulating yourself in this way is very high. Your self-imposed quarantine limits your learning and growth. It contributes to your loneliness and isolation. In a broader way, it even deprives the world of your contributions by your not showing who you really are.
Being in relationships that are positive and mutually caring is a sure way to grow into who you are meant to become. Who can you call to meet for a deeper conversation and to explore that connection? Do it today.
How is technology impacting the relationships in your life?
Who brings a sense of real relationship to your life? How can you spend more time with that person?
How would you describe the depth and facets of your own self?
What changes would deeper relationships bring into your life?
The Ring of SafetyFrom The Book of Awakening ~ by Mark Nepo
I was sitting on a bench in the sun, waiting for Robert, when a yellow jacket landed about four feet to my left. I watched its striped anterior pulse and protract, the sun making its black rings blacker and its yellow rings almost orange.
It made me think of my mother and how if that yellow jacket were within yards of her, she would have rolled up the nearest magazine and with trepidation tried until she swat it. The fear of being stung made her kill many a small thing. She couldn’t tolerate the uncertainty that something living might hurt her, and in her deep fear of being hurt, she walled herself in, swatting everything away.
Almost forty years later, I realize that we all suffer the uncertainty of being hurt by the life that surrounds us, and we all have a changing ring of safety beyond which we are likely to hurt other living things in the guise of self-defense.
I sat on the bench and the yellow jacket flitted closer. But having almost died from cancer, feeling blessed to be here at all, I let the little insect come much closer than I used to. With a softer, more truthful eye, I could see it had little interest in me, and I am ashamed to admit how many times I have harmed others because, like my mother, I couldn’t tolerate the unpredictable nature of their advance.
How often we imagine things are dangerous when they are only doing what comes naturally. The yellow jacket came closer still; when it was almost on my arm, there was time enough to gently shoo it on its way. It flirted with me for quite some time, coming close till I would shoo it on, buzzing at a distance, then coming close again.
This is so much like the dance we do with strangers and loved ones alike. How often we murder parts of ourselves by not letting things advance or come close. How often we let fear and the swat rule our emotional lives. How often we kill or chase away everything that moves.
I think of Francis of Assisi, who held so still the birds landed on his branchlike arms, and we wonder why we are so lonely when we won’t let anything full of life come near. If we could only see the bee, or the bird, or our enemy as a brief living center like ourselves, we could let them go on their way without pulling us into opposition.
INDIVIDUAL COACHING BY PHONE
Want to stop that feeling that life is passing you by?
Would you like to able to experience your life as an exciting series of adventures?
Would you like to feel more joy and achieve more success?
That is what I help my clients develop in their own lives. Working with a coach helps you overcome the challenges that can keep you from a successful life. Coaching gives you a companion on the journey; someone with whom to discuss events as they unfold and to help you move toward joy in the adventure. Developing clear goals, focusing intently and staying committed become possible.
If you aren’t sure and would like to explore whether coaching is right for you, please send an email to Janet@lifeadventurecoaching.com or call me at 828-691-4655 for a complimentary consultation.