‘Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers it back.’ ~Plato
I feel that today, more than ever, in our industrial world, it is essential to explore the stories of connection and separation both from a personal and systemic point of view. I am aware of my privileged position and that this is a complex and nuanced topic.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to the Rain Forest with the Pachamama Alliance. This association established a partnership with various indigenous tribes of the Amazon to protect their culture. It aims to create an environmentally sustainable, socially just, and spiritually fulfilling world. The Achuar and Sapara people of the rainforest invite us — the people of the industrialised countries — to wake up from what they call a ‘collective trance.’ They think that we live in a ‘dream’ and a reality based on the unexamined assumptions of separation and individualism. According to their vision, most suffering we experience in the Western world is rooted in our separation from each other and the living world around us.
In their worldview and cosmovision, all life is interconnected, interdependent, and related, and they don’t see the world as made up of independent players.
The story of separation
American philosopher Charles Eisenstein is one of my favourite thinkers. He speaks about the ‘Story of Separation,’ which has dominated our collective culture. In this narrative, we are all separated individuals, and we compete with each other. We believe that ‘more for you is less for me;’ that nature is unconscious and doesn’t have any intelligence. We try to dominate other human beings and the natural world. When we cut ourselves off from the web of life, we create a wound and yearn for wholeness.
We are living a unique and unprecedented moment in history. In the last two years, many people have lost their jobs and experienced incredible amounts of division and polarisation in their families and communities. Emerging researches and data demonstrate that violence against women and young girls intensified. Suicides are rising. Misuse of drugs and opioids also is increasing. Amongst the various things, we are also facing a collective mental health crisis. The upheaval, lack of physical contact, and uncertainty strain people’s nervous systems.
We see an increase in activities, courses, new initiatives on social media and in the virtual world. At the same time, many did not meet in person their families, gathered in public, hugged, or shook hands for a long time. As a result, some may feel even more isolated, lonely, and separated from themselves and others.
I often sit with this question and wonder how to support people’s resilience and restore a sense of connection and agency in this moment of collective distress.
Author, psychologist, and wilderness guide Bill Plotkin has written a brilliant book: ‘Wild Mind.’ I would like to include here a few words from him: ‘Conventional Western psychology has focused on pathology rather than possibility and participation, and this renders it incomplete and in many ways obsolete…psychological symptoms may best be relieved not by directly trying to eradicate them, impede them or mask them but rather by developing our innate resources, the unavailability of which may be the primary reason why these symptoms appeared in the first place. Perhaps we exhibit symptoms not so much because we are disordered but because we are deficient in our embodiment of wellness, health or wholeness. (…) In recent decades we’ve come to the understanding that our psychological health relies profoundly on the health of the world in which we are embedded. (…) Western culture is alienated from the greater Earth community, especially from nature’s untamed powers, qualities, species, and habitats.
(…) Although in everyday life, we might feel cut off from our wild Earthly roots and relationships, it nevertheless remains true that the deep structures of our human psyche have emerged from this living web.’
There are various levels or areas where people may experience separation, including being out of touch with themselves. Many of us may have felt that something is missing or is out of tune, and sometimes even despair.
Stephen Porges, a scientist at Indiana University, amongst many others, speaks about the fact that human beings are wired for connection, and our nervous system evolved in this way. We are relational beings. The wish for belonging is rooted in our neurobiology. As humans, we need to co-regulate with others.
Many people suffered in the last two years because they could not meet family and friends.
In the last few months, I have been attending a course on trauma therapy with many incredible presenters. I have learnt more in-depth about my nervous system. I am widening my understanding of how trauma impacted my life as a child and later as an adult. The more I learn, the more I can provide myself with valuable tools to strengthen resilience and my sense of connection to myself and the web of life. I also believe in the healing power of education.
Many things happen in the body when the survival loop is reinforced, and the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system is triggered at the survival level. All sorts of stress hormones are released, and neuro connections are activated. Consequently, people may move out of awareness and get stuck in fight mode or collapse. They could experience disconnection at all levels (from self, other, community, living web of life, and spirit), misunderstand safety cues or look for danger. They might end up feeling even more anxious, isolated, and overwhelmed.
Moreover, this survival trauma response may trigger reactivity, harsh comparisons and exacerbate limiting beliefs. Many people could be labelling themselves in a diminishing way.
‘Trauma is a chronic disruption of connection’ ~Stephen Porges
Many of us may have known, in various moments in life, these vicious circles and negative thinking patterns that can go in loops in our heads:
- I am alone/I will always be alone
- I have to do it all by myself
- Nobody cares about me/nobody loves me
- I am a failure
- I am not good enough
- They are brighter/more capable/more successful than me
- I should do better/do more work/earn more money
- I can’t do this/ I am not capable
- It’s my fault/it’s your fault.
When people don’t have a sense of safety, belonging, and connection, they may focus on the negative and filter out the positive. They could blame the current circumstances on the ‘bad’ guys and expect the worst to happen. This emotional state may cause additional anxiety, stress, overwhelm, addiction, and ultimately a kind of disempowerment that drives us further away from our true nature and light.
At a very instinctual and biological level, our autonomic nervous system is constantly looking for cues for safety or danger.
We need each other to heal, soothe and repair our nervous system. When we receive danger signals, stress and adaptive survival responses increase in our autonomic nervous system. It is easier to get stuck and resistant to change or assume a collapsed posture. On the contrary, we can move more quickly into connection and co-regulation when sending and receiving safety signals. Co-regulation is the base for self-regulation. It creates new possibilities and stories and is a calm state that allows trust and empathy.
If we have missed co-regulation during childhood, we might experience a loss during adulthood.
The story of connection
‘I have come to believe that loving presence is the most important thing we have to learn. This living intimate connection with each other is the ground and purpose of our living and the source of the healing that we do.’ ~Ron Kurtz
There is good news. From a somatic perspective, our system tends naturally towards health and wholeness. It may continue to grow and blossom with proper support, love, kindness.
Suppose we can cultivate good resources, nutrients and terrain. In that case, if we water our seeds, we can develop a healthier relationship with ourselves and ultimately with all life.
From a polyvagal perspective, I want to emphasise that we can move into connection when we are in a ventral vagal state. We regulate and co-regulate, play, reach out, receive and offer support, explore more options, and be flexible, resilient, loving, and compassionate.
Hence, it is crucial to focus on strengths and resources to nourish what is already working when exploring a new story of connection.
We are relational beings and need each other to thrive. We are our relationships, including the non-humans and the invisible world.
I love Charles Eisenstein’s point of view because he looks at personal and collective change processes.
He reminds us that ‘the true self is a connected self’ from a metaphysical, philosophical, and biological point of view (i.e., including the trillion cells in our bodies, the genetic information inherited from our ancestors and the bacteria living in our organism).
Our life depends on a complex network, collaboration and symbiosis of other living beings.
‘Everything relies on everything else in the cosmos in order to manifest — whether a star, a cloud, a flower, a tree, or you and me.’ ~Thich Nath Hanh
As Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says, ‘the verb ‘to be’ can be misleading because we cannot be ourselves alone. ‘To be’ is always to ‘inter-be.’ If we combine the prefix ‘inter’ with the verb ‘to be,’ we have a new verb, ‘inter-be.’ To inter-be and the action of Interbeing reflects reality more accurately. We inter-are with one another and with all life. My well-being draws from yours and is related to the well-being of people across the globe, the rivers, the oceans, and the forests.’
Picture taken in the High Andes
Moreover, I would like to mention that a British journalist, Johann Hari, opened a groundbreaking conversation a few years ago. He researched the causes of addiction and concluded that the ‘opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection.’ In this way, this challenging problem is seen as a social disorder. This conclusion also reinforces other research on the human need for secure attachment, warmth, and trust.
Similarly, as I mentioned above, the pioneering work of Stephen Porges has created awareness about the neurobiology of our nervous system. It evolved to detect intonation, facial expressions, body language almost at a primitive level. Depending on how we communicate with one another, we create the process that is defined as self-regulation; that includes mirroring each other, settling, attuning, grounding through each other’s presence.
Many of us are animal lovers and sensitive towards their suffering. So please forgive me for this strong example. I thought it was worth mentioning.
In the seventies and more recent times, rats were put in cages alone, with bottles filled with normal water and heroin. Rats would get hooked on heroin and overdose.
When a wider cage for many rats was created, with balls, toys, and plenty of food and time for mating, all rats would choose normal water, and none was hooked on heroin.
Connection plays a key and pivotal role in developing one’s wholeness, true essence, and wellness. This process entails nurturing a healthy relationship with oneself, others, and the world around us.
When we deepen this sense of connection and our kinship with the whole web of life, we can become agents of change. We can develop the resilience we need in this time of distress.
We can decide to experience and nurture connection and give attention to it. As I mentioned above, it is crucial to use a lens that focuses on strengths, resources and what is already working. Neuroscience speaks about the importance of giving attention to new experiences to grow new neural pathways. The more we give attention to it, the more our sense of connection to life expands.
This choice may lead us also to more creative, imaginative, and cooperative outcomes.
Below, I have listed some examples and simple ways to explore and deepen a sense of connection to yourself and the web of life. Some of these practices (i.e. singing, humming, toning, drumming, especially when safely shared with others, stimulate and tone the ventral vagus nerve, supporting our neurobiology of connection). You can play with it and see what comes up for you.
- Mindfulness meditation
- Breathing exercises
- Playing an instrument
- Writing a journal
- Cultivating the imagination
- Planting seeds
- Growing food
- Supporting a charity that protects trees
- Prayer & spiritual practice
- Gentle exercise
- Time outdoors
- Walking in a park
- Being barefoot
- Petting an animal
- Creating a ritual
- Contemplating beauty
- Practising kindness and appreciation
- Nurturing meaningful conversations
- Spending quality time with loved ones
- Writing love letters
- Reading inspiring books
- Learning something new
- Finding a trusted coach or therapist
- Reaching out to a friend.
These activities above might bring you joy, pleasure and fun. It is all a matter of playing and exploring.
Sometimes I wonder if this time of distress could also become an opportunity to rediscover connection, with one’s true nature, with each other and with that which is more significant than us?
When we cannot control the external circumstances, we can choose to focus on small steps, on the things available to us in our environment. This exploration can become a tool for resilience, growth, and ultimately for experiencing connection.
Trust your baby steps!
‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’ ~ Lao Tzu
My invitation is to create a practice to anchor yourself in the resources that cultivate your sense of connection, safety and belonging.
I include here some questions for you. I hope you enjoy this exploration!
What are your experiences of being nurtured?
What are your experiences of feeling connected?
What are your experiences of being at ease?
What are your experiences of being empowered?
What does your nervous system need at this moment?
What is your favourite story of hope?
What is your favourite story of friendship?
How can you identify the people, objects, where and when that support your sense of connection?
Thank you! I hope you found this piece helpful. Feel free to get in touch and let me know how it lands or if you have questions.