Meditation Talk: Connection - The Universal Healer
Maybe it’s interesting that a year and a half ago I began the adventure of these once a month meditations - the series I intentionally and purposefully named “Connection,” yet here we are 18 months later, and this may be the first time I’ve brought the namesake of our time together be the focus of the practice. So tonight, perhaps, is a REconnection to our roots.
I want to talk tonight about connection, a state in which two things become joined in some way. As a part of our humanity, I might argue that to be connected to another human being in the most authentic, raw, and unfiltered way might be more accurately described as a heart connection than anything else, and I have found in my own life and experience, through the shifting winds of being alive and the curious evolution of my perspectives that have accompanied a journey through mindfulness, that heart connections look and feel very different than I once originally thought.
I would argue, and perhaps we each know and feel this in our lives in our own ways, that to survive on this Earth as a human being, we MUST have heart connections. In fact, we see this in nature in life forms we may deem lower than even that of humans. If you put a lone living cell in a petri dish, it will die...every time. It is only when cells exist in community that they begin to live and thrive. Human beings kept in isolation quickly become insane, in some way out of touch with the world around them. I see Nelson Mandela as a shining example of the power of heart connection. Though kept largely in isolation and only really in contact with other human beings who tortured and harmed it, Nelson chose to make heart connections to himself and the people responsible for his physical pain.
He talks of how viewing these people through the eyes of love and compassion, ultimately creating a heart connection to each one, kept him from dipping into an emotional and mental pain that would have broken his spirit. This is the power of connection.
It was not long ago, that I was driving through Atlanta on my way to some appointment feeling frustrated by traffic and potential lateness. I could feel the rising anxiety in my heart, the tightening in my chest, and I was aware of what was happening in my body and mind - the curious thing, however, is that I was NOT being mindful. There’s a piece of the definition of mindfulness that is, for most of us, the hardest part: fore to be mindful does not just mean that we witness what is happening in the space of our experience, but also that we reside in space of nonjudgmental openness to the qualities of each moment. So, though I was aware enough of what was happening in my body and mind, there was a subtle, quiet but still present desire for it to go away. I didn’t want to feel a tight chest and angry mind. I began breathing in the ways I’ve learned to soothe my mind, however, the quiet critic was still there encouraging my body to stop feeling the way it was “Look, you’re breathing softly and slowly and nothing is changing.” I was, resisting my experience, pushing it away rather than connecting from my own heart to what I was experiencing.
It was an interesting thing that lifted the veil of judgement. In an unexpected moment, I looked up to see a woman in her little blue car take an enormous bite of food and begin chewing as she pulled up to the intersection I was stopped at. There was nothing special about this woman, her food, or even the moment. But there was something raw and human about seeing her in her bubble of car protection being utterly just like me. The veil lifted. I remembered my own humanness, and the anger, frustration, and tightness in my chest melted away. Why? I thought? What was so powerful about this moment that all these nasty emotions could so easily dissolve away in a breath leaving me here completely at ease? The answer was obvious, connection. In that completely mundane moment, my heart connected to the humanity in the woman across from me - I imagine it like that scene in The Grinch where his heart grows 3 times its size, and I have to say, the thing I love about this story is that when his heart grows by 3, he finds the strength of 10 Grinches (plus 2). For me in that moment of my heart being touched for just an instant by its own humanity, it was as though the tightness crumbled away, revealing a live and open heart that could accept me and my emotional experience in the same light that it opened to and accepted a woman I’ve never met.
In 2015, Portugal was one of the first countries to purport that connection, not sobriety, is the opposite of addiction. At the heart of this lied the idea that substance abuse was not about the pleasurable effects of the drugs but rather about the user’s inability to connect in healthy ways to other human beings. If this is true then heart healthy connection to other humans should heal addiction NOT the removal of the substance. As crazy as this may sound, it works. The theory was first tested on rats - rats kept alone in cages with a choice of untainted water or heroin water will eventually OD on heroin, EVERY time. Give rats the same choice but put them in a cage with other rats, the don’t choose the heroin. You can even take a heroin addicted rat and put it in the “rat park” as they call it, and it will naturally, and obviously without therapy and treatment, all on its own, stop using the heroin. Portugal took this idea and put it into practice. They decriminalized illicit substances and made the treatment for addiction to help people become more deeply connected to society at large. For example, if an addict was a computer programmer prior to his or her downfall, the government will find a company that needs a programmer and offer to pay half of their salary for the first year of employment if the company will give that person a shot. What are the results? Drug use is down. Drug related arrests, imprisonment, and crime is down. And adolescent drug use is down.
Connection, specifically the willingness to be vulnerable with and see other human beings for the perfectly imperfect beings that they are, to share our humanity and being willing to see that humanity in others, is a powerful tool for healing. And though I once believe that this type of connection should be reserved for the special people in our lives, I am learning more and more that to make these connections with every single person we encounter day by day and moment by moment just makes the world a more better place. The other day, after a particularly lengthy lovingkindness practice, I had to make a trip to the grocery store. It was PACKED. What on one day may have felt a bit overwhelming became an experience that nearly brought me tears and filled my heart with an unending sense of love. It was as though every person I saw was a friend - though it would have been odd and probably REALLY uncomfortable to go up and hug every person I passed (I’m sure this would NOT have gone over well), I could feel that my heart was hugging them from afar and an offering of a smile as I passed felt like enough. This week, as a man cut me off in morning traffic merging onto the highway, I noticed his Tennessee license plate and wondered if he was heading home to his family after being away. I couldn’t be mad or frustrated or ruminate on how inconsiderate he was as I thought about who might be waiting for him to make it safely home, and instead I was awash with the desire for him to make it back as safely and easily as he could.
It is these moments of being willing to let our hearts loose that remind us that life is not a competition or a race - it is a moment by moment experience wrought with the potential for love and joy!
Though, of course, every moment can’t be this (none of us are Buddha’s yet...at least I don’t think!), I have learned and continue to be reminded that connection is the ultimate healer. When we argue with a partner, it is the coming back together that creates deep healing and makes us willing, over and over, to try again. When we feel we’ve failed at something, it is connecting to ourselves, to our own humanity, offering ourselves love and forgiveness that heals, that gives us the strength and encouragement to try again. And I think this is such an important part of connection - the connection we have to ourselves - the willingness to accept ourselves and our own imperfect humanity as we would the person we love most in the world, that allows us to rest in authentic, nonjudgemental presence with ourselves and invariably with others. It is compassionately connecting to our own hearts that heals the wounds of all the years of self criticism, of not enoughness, of needing to be better or more, and it is this giving of permission to ourselves that creates the space for others to be just as human as we are.
In connecting to our shared humanity, we connect to the space of limitless love in our own hearts, where we love because GD is just FEELS good to love. Where we are capable of loving anyone in any moment because we love ourselves in the good, the bad, and the REALLY ugly. I think we’ve all been taught or maybe we’ve learned over the years that in some way it’s not safe to open our hearts to loving all the time, but the beautiful thing, I think at least, is that even if someone momentarily breaks your tender heart, the willingness to stay connected, to share our humanity and suffering, means that love will always win, melting us right back into the space of connection.