Keeping in touch with friends and those we love is an important part of life, whether this is through meeting up, phone calls, or social media. We connect at some level with everyone we interact with, whether this is a friend, a work colleague, or a complete stranger. As human beings, we’ve evolved as social animals and have a deep need to feel connected and in touch with others. It’s interesting that connection is said to be the opposite of addiction, as research shows that people who reduce their addiction to drugs or alcohol by improving their social connections are less likely to relapse.
More fundamentally, we need to feel connected with the rich experience that life offers. This is why putting a prisoner in an isolation cell is such an extreme punishment. Even in our daily lives, when we lose connection, we can experience feeling a bit isolated, separate, limited or alone.
So why is it that we sometimes lose connection with other people and also with our experience?
Albert Einstein answers this very eloquently: “A human being is a part of the whole called by us “Universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Our awareness and attention are capable of being connected with our mind, emotions, body and senses in the present moment. With practice, it’s possible to hold our attention on what someone’s saying, while noticing and acknowledging thoughts and emotions as they arise, without losing connection. Instead, what typically happens in conversation is that we become distracted by our thoughts, as we rehearse our own response and wait impatiently for our turn to speak.
As Einstein pointed out, it’s easy to get lost in our own ideas, desires and impulses; seeing other people as separate from us, and ourselves as unique individuals. We can reverse this by recognising that everyone we encounter shares a common humanity. And by being non-judging, open and compassionate, we can make a big difference to the quality of our relationships. Even complete strangers have similar feelings with highs and lows, hopes and fears and experience a complex inner life just like our own. The realisation that we’re all connected reframes who we think we are; no longer a single, isolated unit at the centre of our own separate world.
Our experience is enabled by conscious awareness and mediated through our attention. We like to think that we are masters of our own attention. The truth is that our attention often unconsciously switches to something else. As we identify with where our attention goes as “Me”, we often claim retrospectively that this was our choice, when in fact it was distracted externally, or internally by thoughts, emotions or physical sensations. The most common form, when our mind wanders off in thought, happens almost half of our waking lives. So, being aware of where our attention is in any moment is fundamental to the quality of our experience.
To be in touch and connected is not just about paying attention; it’s about appreciating the amazing richness and vitality that life and human relationships have to offer. Dropping out of thoughts and bringing our attention and awareness back to our body and senses in the present moment is the real key. So next time you find your attention drifting, try asking yourself, “Where’s my attention now?” and see what insights arise.
Suggested weekly practice
- Without being inappropriate, exploring how you can connect with strangers, maybe having a friendly chat with someone in a lift or shop and smiling with your eyes with people who meet your eye.
- Bringing friendliness, generosity, and compassion to people who you encounter during the day.
- Exploring how richly connected you are with your surroundings; the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and touch.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified, and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware. There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second practice to explore and experience connection.
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