In her final interview before her death Mother Teresa was asked, “What do you say when you pray?” She said, “I listen.” The interviewer then asked, “Well, what does God say?” She said, “He listens.” God knows, the greatest gift we can give is our attention.
Have you ever spent time with someone who wasn’t paying attention to the conversation? Maybe they were distracted or preoccupied. When we feel unseen or unheard, it hurts. Time is our most valuable resource so how we spend our time and who we spend it with is literally irreplaceable. We will never get our time back. Brené Brown said, “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Attending to the Core Value of Connection means taking a close look at your relationships and investing time, energy, and attention into the relationships that nourish and strengthen you. When do you feel the most connected? In which relationships do you feel seen, heard, valued, and strengthened? Another way we experience connection is through community. Today, many of us get this need met by attending yoga or meditation classes. But when we attend a class it’s about so much more than the teacher or the type of class. It’s about the people we share it with! It’s about the community. Familiar faces bring a sense of citizenship to our experience and help elevate our accountability to practice. The community or as it’s referred to in Buddhism, the sangha, is one of the three jewels or three foundations of the entire spiritual path. The Buddha even said, “admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life.”
Connection is the whole of spiritual life. Connection helps us to feel responsible—for ourselves and for each other. Without connection, this feeling of responsibility can fade and we may lose sight of our shared purpose and values. This is the consequence of isolation and disconnection. In the ancient Greek story of King Midas he is given one wish and is granted “the golden touch.” From that moment forward everything King Midas touched turned to gold, including food and even people. Although he had all of the power and wealth he could dream of, he could not connect with the people he loved and realized his wish was actually a curse. Your values ignite your purpose but, your purpose is meaningless without people to share it with. When something wonderful happens, or when something terribly painful happens, our first instinct is often to share. We crave connection and studies have shown that it’s key to our health.
A Light Dose of Science
According to Psychology Today social connection improves health, strengthens immunity, helps you recover from injury or illness faster, and even increases longevity. Studies show that social connection should be as much of your overall wellness routine as eating fruits and vegetables and getting exercise. A lack of connection and a feeling of isolation is equally detrimental to your health. People who are lonely experience increased rates of depression and anxiety and a study in 2004 showed that one in four Americans doesn’t even have one close friend to confide in. This is painful and reminds me of the beautiful saying, “be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.” Time and time again research has shown that human beings subjected to prolonged isolation, such as prisoners held in solitary confinement, become unstable. Children raised without human touch don’t develop normally. We need each other. And we need to actively seek out positive, supportive connections.
Begin by closing your eyes or softly resting your gaze toward the floor… As you arrive, take a moment to settle and feel into your body. You might notice where your body touches a surface, or, you might feel the sensations in your palms or the soles of your feet.
Bring your awareness to the center of your chest, the space around your heart. You may notice your breath rising and falling in this place. You may notice the subtle beating of your heart.
Imagine you are standing in the middle of a beautiful golden bubble. As you imagine yourself here, you feel supported, calm, and deeply connected. Invite two people you love to join you in this bubble. See one person standing to your right and one person standing to your left. Feel yourself connected to these loved ones as you stand together in this golden bubble. You may even imagine that you reach out and hold each other’s hands. As you rest here for several breaths, relish the feeling of connection you experience in their presence.
Now imagine that these two people each invite two more people into the bubble. See yourself standing in the golden bubble with these six people. Maybe you know them, maybe you don’t. Rest here for several breaths. Continue to imagine that each person who enters the bubble also gets to invite two more people into the bubble. See the people around you growing and expanding. As more and more people join the bubble you see that there are all walks of life surrounding you-men and women, young and old, people you know and people you don’t, people who like like you and people who don’t, possibly even pets or other animals.
See the community within the bubble continue to grow and expand. Consider, as this bubble grows, is there anyone you have left outside of the bubble? Is there anyone you refused to let join? Can you include this person too? Eventually, you see that the bubble surrounds the entire world so that all people everywhere belong and are connected. Rest here for several minutes as you allow this feeling of community and connection to nourish you from within.
Connection occurs at the space of your heart. When you feel connected you experience harmony, joy, understanding, and peace. The journey to deeper connection begins within. These final exercises compel you to enact the value of connection off the mat and in the world while also helping you to mindfully prepare for each week ahead.
It’s time to build connection through service. Choose one act you can undertake today to give back. In yoga we call this Seva or Karma Yoga. Take time to make eye contact with someone, spend time in conversation, and give back in a way that is fueled by connection. This exercise is to truly connect, which might mean stepping outside of your comfort zone. Touching just one person is enough and can transform both of your hearts into a state of true belonging by offering your presence alone. Consider journaling your story of connection.
When do you feel the most connected? Which relationships leave you feeling seen, heard, valued, and strengthened? How can you invest more in these experiences and relationships in the coming months and years?
What are your Intentions? Write them down.
How will you continue to grow? What are your goals. Write them down. What steps will you take to achieve them? What is the specific outcome you will achieve? When will you achieve each goal by? Be specific! Remember, people who write their goals down and share them achieve their goals at an exponentially higher rather rate than people who don’t!