A few months ago I became obsessed with the concept of connection. I knew that my whole belief system and attitude towards it were changing and whilst I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going to end up, I knew that the shift in my thinking was going to be both significant and positive. I attempted this post several times back then but no matter how hard I tried, it was clear that I wasn’t yet ready to share my thinking on the subject.

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” ~ Herman Melville

Connection is something that I am grateful for, it’s what I crave, it’s what I court and what I block in equal measure. When I have it is when I feel most alive and not feeling connected can result in feelings of heart crushing loneliness. Connection slapped me across the face on this trip and I’ve felt compelled to investigate and explore it. Funnily enough it all started with a connection. A life affirming, sharing of secrets, talking until the early hours, giggling at everything and nothing in particular, sort of connection. It happened unexpectedly and fairly early on in my trip and it was only when I inevitably moved on, that I realised how precious and rare those sorts of connections are and I began to miss it massively.

It was then that I began to think deeply about why and how we connect with other people. I started to see all the ways in which we connect not just to people but to animals, music, nature, a collection of words, a piece of art, a place or even a moment. I began to realise that connection is the fabric and foundation of life but I also started to feel dismayed by how rare those truly deep connections seem to be. I wrote down the things that defined connection to me:

It’s laughing with someone and not even knowing why. It’s telling all of your deepest secrets to someone you’ve only just met, without hesitation or fear of judgment. It’s feeling understand, heard, respected and loved just for being exactly who you are. It’s losing all track of time and talking until the early hours. It’s the difference between a first date and a second. It can make you cancel or change your plans at the last minute to spend more time with people who you’ve met. It’s when you feel most alive.

I wondered why it is that some people inspire and excite me while other people can make me bristle or yawn. Why connecting with some people feels so bloody brilliant but with others, it feels arduous, if not impossible. I started to wish that I had more of those ‘deep’ connections in my life and concluded that there were simply my kind of people, kindred spirits if you like and then there is everyone else. If only I could meet more like-minded souls I thought, then I would be happier.

Around the same time I started reading ‘The places that scare you’ by Pema Chodron. As usual, choosing this book from the list of 219 books on my kindle was no coincidence. I couldn’t help but smile when I realised that the book is all about connection, about recognising our interconnectedness and how we are all connected to each other and nature and the universe.

One reason we train as warriorbodhisattvas is to recognise our interconnectedness – to grow in understanding that when we harm another, we are harming ourselves. We train in opening our hearts and minds to increasingly difficult situations” ~ Pema Chodron.

And as I started to understand the true essence of our interconnectedness, I realised that connecting with only what we find positive in the world leaves us numb to half of what it is to be alive. Chodron encourages us to connect to all of life rather than just the good bits.

How often do we see suffering and choose to harden our hearts to it rather than to truly connect to someone else’s pain? I know that I used to do it often and understandably so. We might call it a self-defence mechanism and tell ourselves that it protects us from feeling too much pain. What I’ve started to understand is that when we protect ourselves from pain we also protect ourselves from true joy. You cannot numb only your reaction to the painful parts of life without numbing yourself entirely. As I started to understand this I added the following to my definition:

It’s connecting with the humiliation and rejection of the tour guide who made a pass at you and then sulked angrily when you turned him down. It’s connecting to the shame of an old man playing guitar in the café you’re eating lunch in, when a young, pretty waitress goes over and hands him some coins by way of asking him to leave. It’s connected to the desperation in the cries of the becak drivers of Indonesia or the tuk-tuk drivers of Thailand rather than defaulting to being irritated and irked. It’s connecting to the abuse and suffering of a dying animal.

I now see how gifts like courage, compassion, and connection only work when they are exercised. Every day.” ~ Brene Brown

And as I started to add to my list and practice connecting to pain and suffering as well as those people who might previously have bothered me, I made myself the following promise: From here on in, I will try to connect with all that life throws at me rather than just the good bits. Rather than attempt to ignore suffering, I will allow myself to see it, acknowledge it and do my best to truly connect with it. I know it will be hard not to turn away from suffering but I also know that the rewards of being fully connected in this world are great.

Do you have any thoughts to share on the subject of connection? Perhaps you disagree with the notion of connecting with suffering or maybe you already do so on a regular basis. Either way, I would love to hear from you. If you liked this post, please do share it by hitting one of the buttons below.