Connection – Skill, Art and Necessity
Dr. Nicola McCaffrey (DClinPsy.) Clinical Psychologist

Connection – Skill, Art and Necessity

- And why we can’t blame it all on Covid-19
25.August 2021 Dr. Nicola McCaffrey

A year and a half into the pandemic and we are all beginning to emerge, to think about connection and reconnection. For many of us COVID-19 has highlighted our longing and thirst for connection. It has exposed what is at our very essence, that we are indeed social creatures. Covid-19 has deprived us of certainty and freedom, but these have perhaps not been our greatest sacrifices. Connection, both physical and emotional, have taken a huge hit too. As Brené Brown puts it so eloquently “connection gives us purpose and meaning in our life”. As we begin to consider reaching out and making connections once again, it is an opportunity to pause and consider no just who, but the why and how of it.

Today’s words on connection come from Sandra Meisel. Sandra is a yoga teacher here in Stavanger and teaches Vinyasa Yoga at Sansche Yoga. Over a number of years I have come to know Sandra as a passionate and warm person who has connection, education and compassion at her heart. Her thoughts on connection are enlightening and deserve further discussion. Sandras words are worth reading so sit back and let her lead you through her timely thoughts on the art and skill of connection in todays world….

We are so much in a hurry, that we are missing out on life itself

Our default mode is ticking things off the list. We are always onto the next thing. This is how we live, work, socialize, communicate, eat, exercise, sometimes even love and parent. Constant rush and forward-momentum characterise big parts of our life. Our fear of missing out (FOMO) is what drives us. Paradoxically, what really makes us miss out, is that very fear itself!

Connection requires a mind that is able to pay attention, to watch and listen closely instead of being pulled away by every ever so little stimulus. We seem to have lost that ability to some degree, and the rapid reward-cycles of modern media have further accelerated this development. We have become terrible at enduring boredom. Already thirty seconds of “pause” where nothing happens, is too much for our dopamine-craving brains to handle and makes us reach for the phone. This leaves little time for reflection, for random thoughts and creative aha-moments. We are a distraction-addicted, attention-deficit society creating a world that lacks depth. A world like that leaves us feeling empty, dissatisfied and – have a guess! – disconnected.

Our bubble has turned into a fortress
We very much differ between whom we want to connect to and to whom we don’t. We look for connection and acknowledgement with like-minded people and are often not as interested in those whom are not as easy to relate to. I guess this is only natural and shouldn’t be a problem as long as the bubble we live in doesn’t become a fortress. This is what often happens, though. And this is when it becomes sort of paradox: when the very drive to connect promotes separation and societal divide instead. But who exactly are the “builders” of that fortress? Let’s have a look:

(i) Strong point of view: The stronger we identify ourselves with our values, tastes and lifestyle, our opinions, stories and background, the higher the walls we build and the more exclusive we become. So in all our eagerness to connect with some, we distance ourselves from the rest.

(ii) Convenience: Our fortress is comfortable and provides shelter. The rules are set – our viewpoints, opinions and beliefs, too. Differing opinions are seen as a threat to the peace and quiet of our bubble and make us feel rather uncomfortable. It takes real effort to deal with them and, worst of all, we might feel forced to question our own. What we sacrifice with this attitude is a life with depth.

(iii) Our fear of standing alone: Some seek the company of the flock more because of their fear of standing alone. For them it is not about being seen, but of NOT being seen. For them the flock is little more but a shelter, a hiding place. “If people get to see my true self, including my weaknesses and flaws, will I still be worthy of connection? Am I still good enough?” The fear of losing connection typically involves some kind of shame. Shame can be the driving force to fit in and to hide the true self. But as we pretend to be someone we are not, we disconnect from ourselves. And from that place we can only fail to authentically connect to the people and the world around us.

MOVING TOWARDS CONNECTION

Opening to vulnerability
Brené Brown explains that we have to open into vulnerability in order for true connection to happen. That means we have to allow ourselves to be seen, let go of who we think we should be in order to be who we are. This involves putting our self image to the test (the way we see ourselves, but also how we WANT to be seen), and also asking ourselves why we spend so much time with its maintenance and grooming; social media platforms are big allies in this activity.

Vulnerability is commonly mistaken for weakness, which is why the notion of vulnerability is often accompanied by a certain aversion. It’s a misconception though, the truth being that it requires quite an amount of courage, strength and trust to stand by your inadequacies, weaknesses and flaws! But once we dare doing so, we’ll find it much easier to truly and authentically connect to the outer world. And there is more: we cultivate compassion!

Finding compassion
With compassion we see more clearly that others face struggles similar to ours. Instead of comparing ourselves with others and looking for differences, we get more and more interested in seeing what we have in common, what unites us. We connect! We also begin to understand that most of us share the same longing for connection, but also the same misconceptions of how to achieve it. With that in mind we can let go more easily of our judgemental attitude and presumptuous behaviour. We find compassion for others, and our actions, speech and thoughts reflect that! This makes people feel safe in our presence, safe enough to be themselves and to connect!

“The more time you spend in a state of curiosity, enthusiasm and dedication, the more depths you add to your life. Connection will grow as a consequence.”

What does connection mean to you? When, where and how do you find it? Ask yourself, which activities create a sense of connection, which people or places support you find a sense of integrity and belonging. This is where you want to invest more of your time!

So if we want to restore a sense of awe and wonder, and become aware of life’s potential we have to shed our narrow-minded and biased attitude first. Usually this happens much easier and more naturally when we expose ourselves to new surroundings and experiences.

That means, whatever your go-to activities, break your usual routine and try something new (and don’t let your self image stand in the way)! Reinvent yourself! If downhill biking is your thing, try yourself at West Coast Swing for a change, sign up for a Wild Edible Workshop or learn to identify the different birdsongs in your backyard. Whatever it is, surprise yourself with something that is totally not on your radar! You might find passion – and connection – where there was none!

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